“My dad stays on the radio constantly and lets me know what I’m doing right or doing wrong,” says Austin, a third-generation racer from Mt. Juliet who inherited his love of the sport from his dad Mike and grandfather John.
Austin says his dad is not shy with his advice and doesn’t mince words.
“Sometimes I’ll be riding round and he’ll come on the radio and tell me I need to pick up my lap times, that I’m getting beat in the corners or something like that,” Austin says. “He’s pretty direct. He knows what buttons to push to get me going.”
But, he adds:
“I know he’s trying to help me, and I don’t mind a little constructive criticism. It makes me drive harder.”
The coaching has paid off. Two years ago Austin was named the Most Improved Driver at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway. Last season he had some impressive runs in the premier Pro Late Model division despite a series of mishaps.
The 2018 season got off to a bitter-sweet start.
“I qualified 7thand was running third and battling with the leaders when I had a flat tire from some earlier contact,” Austin says. “I finished fourth. That wasn’t bad, everything considered, but it wasn’t a win.”
Austin, taking a break from his studies at Middle Tennessee State University where he is majoring in aerospace engineering, says he is not necessarily racing for a championship this season.
“I just want to go out and be competitive every night and try to win races,” he says. “I’m not going to pay any attention to the points right now. If I’m up in the standings toward the end of the season I might approach it differently. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Mike, a top driver in the 1980’s at Fairgrounds Speedway, followed his dad John into the sport and says he is proud of his son for carrying on the family legacy.
“I inherited the love of racing from my dad, and I guess I passed it on to Austin,” he says. “Racing has always been a big part of our family. I put Austin in a quarter-midget car when he was six, and he was racing trucks at Highland Rim by 13. He took to it naturally. He’s already a better driver than I was.”
Mike, who finished second to Bobby Hamilton in the championship standings one season, says he has no regrets about giving up driving to coach his son.
“I won some races and had a lot of fun, and now I’m content to stay on the sidelines and help Austin,” he says. “He’s a good driver, he works hard at it, and I enjoy working with him.”
Fairgrounds Speedway promoter Tony Formosa has attempted to lower mechanical expenses for competitors, and Mike says the teams appreciate it.
“The cost of racing has sky-rocketed from back when my dad and I raced,” he says. “These days you have to spend $75,000 or $85,000 to put a car on the track and be competitive. The cost is forcing a lot of people out of the sport on the local levels.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the potential frustration that lurks in every turn on the track – Austin’s blown tire in the season opener being a prime example.
“That’s part of racing,” he says. “We had some bad luck last season that cost us some good finishes. They say bad luck runs in cycles; hopefully we’ll break the cycle this year.”
That optimism is reflected in a new race car and a new trailer and the Brawleys’ plans to race at some other tracks around the region, including Montgomery and New Smyrna.
“Every season is a new start,” Austin says. “I’m ready to go.”