By Sarah Teeter
Racing has always been a part of 18 year old Austin Kunerts life. Growing up, he recalls watching races with his mom and dad on TV, and on the tracks. His parents would take him to NASCAR weekends and other races, and eventually, at the age of eight years old, he decided that he wanted to get into racing himself. His parents were very supportive of this decision, and helped him get set up with the connections and the necessary equipment. He began his career by racing go-karts, and gradually has moved his way up to almost NASCAR level racing. The differences between NASCAR racing, and Austin’s racing are very few, They drive the same type of cars, at the same speeds, and he even competes with some NASCAR drivers. “It really all comes down to which series you’re in.” says Kunert. “Our series just doesn’t get as much publicity as NASCAR does. Our series is just televised on the computer on certain websites instead of on live TV.” Another difference comes from the type of drivers that show up to compete. “I race against all age groups, and people with all types of experience. There’s veteran drivers, the young guns who are just starting out, and then the people who just show up.” It seems to be more competitive in the way that everyone has a shot to compete instead of only the well known racers.
Recently Austin competed in a race known as the Winchester 400, one of the biggest races in the country, where he placed second. He also won the 2018 Senneker Performance Rookie of the Year Award and was runner-up in the 2018 ARCA/CRA Super Series Chase for the Championship. Throughout the racing season, drivers accumulate points as they place in races, but reset for the championship race, where the four best drivers duke it out. “I was doing really well throughout the season. I won one of the races, had about six top 5 placements, and was even winning the championship race until I had a part break”
When asked how far into his future he saw racing taking him, he replied “I’m doing it pretty seriously at the moment. How far I go really relies on the sponsors and the people backing me. The more and bigger sponsors you have, the further you go. I have great sponsors, but ultimately we need more to help my team go farther.” Austin is a first year aviation student at Hesston College, and although he is really interested in aviation, he plans to use that career as a backup in the event that his career as a stock car driver doesn’t work out.
With Austin’s dad as the Chief of Operations at his company, he has many connections to big corporations and other million dollar companies that support Austin in his competitions and help him with the costs of operation. Some are serious about their contributions, and are known NASCAR backers, but others just give what they can to help out, and to see Austin go further as he competes. “Some companies just need the publicity, and want to slap their sticker on a car, but others really care about what I’m doing, and are actually super into the racing community.”
Austin can’t do this all alone though, he relies on his team of seven to eight guys to help him throughout the racing season. In preparation, they maintain and prepare the car, along with Austins help. “I really like being in the shop, getting to help the guys who work on my car, because I get to gain the knowledge at the same time as helping my team. It’s tougher now because I don’t live at home, to get into the shop and keep learning about how to maintain and keep my car in it’s best state possible. The guys back at home on my team do a really great job.” When it comes to races, the guys are ready in the pit ready to change tires and do emergency maintenance when the time comes. “The team that I race for already has the crew and equipment that I need to compete, so that’s how I got my team together, but I race my own car that my Dad and I bought ourselves instead of the team’s car.”
Nerves are no threat to Austin. When asked if he had any pre-race rituals or techniques to calm his nerves he responded “I use to get nervous before races, and I would pray to calm my nerves, but these days it doesn’t really phase me anymore. I kind of consider myself a veteran racer since I’ve been doing this since I was eight. Now it’s just like ‘lets go turn left 100 times!’”
Getting ready and prepping for the competitions is a long process of shop work and testing out the car on the tracks. The first day of the competition weekends usually consist of warming up their tires, practicing and qualifying for the next couple of days. After a long day of prep work, the team gets their sleep in preparation for the next day or two of intense competition. “Race day is pretty serious. Everyone stares each other down, trying to intimidate each other.” Before the race, the drivers have a period of autograph signing, where they get to meet fans, and kids who look up to them. Austin even has his own fan base, especially at his home track. “It’s pretty crazy to look up in the stands and see people wearing shirts or sweatshirts with my face or name on them”
With the previous season behind him, Austin has a period of downtime until the next season starts up again in April, although he does look forward to a banquet in his teams honor in January. “I’m a little nervous for that, because I’m use to standing next to my car and talking to reporters and other people, but for this banquet I have to write and give a speech and there’s going to be some pretty important people there, so it has to be good.” Look for Austin back on the tracks again next year in April with his same team, but in the future, be prepared to see Austin on national TV in the NASCAR series, as he aims to pursue his dream even further.