African American NASCAR Hopeful Set To Make History

May 26, 2011  |  

by Candice Hardy

It’s time to make history.  Twenty-one year old, Chase Austin is set to compete in order to qualify for Friday’s 2011 Freedom 100 taking place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  By qualifying for the Freedom 100, Austin will be the first African American to start a Freestone Indy Light’s race and his participation will also be the first race for the team assembled by Willy T. Ribbs, the first African American to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500.

The Indy Car 75, which Austin will be driving today, holds much significance.  It honors Ribbs’ car number in 1993 and 1994, when he drove for comedian and sponsor at the time, Bill Cosby.

In an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com, Ribbs spoke about Austin.  “He had been in NASCAR, but nothing happened there to his benefit.”.
Ribbs stated that he saw similarities between Austin and himself.  “He’s committed to being successful,” Ribbs said.  “He understands what’s going on. Auto racing is mechanical and technical. You have to know what’s happening with the car and what it takes to make it go faster.”
As a child in Eudora, Kansas, Austin said that he was always interested in making cars go faster.  At the age of eight, he started racing go-cars.  However, his parents weren’t quite sold by his passion for cars at that age.  “My parents thought it was just a phase, and pretty soon I would go back to playing basketball and football, but that didn’t happen.  I love cars and racing,” Austin told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

Ribbs and Austin are among the few African Americans who have been in NASCAR – a statistic encouraged by the expensive barrier to entry. The costs of maintaining a race car are high.  Ribbs estimates that it costs about $2 million a year to maintain an Indy car.  “Money is speed. You can’t have one without the other,” Ribbs said to BlackAmericaWeb.com.

The sky rocketing expenses and lack of color in the NASCAR sport does not discourage Austin.  “I’ve always enjoyed being different and follow a different path,” he told BlackAmericaWeb.com.  “At first, it was just a hobby for me, but by the age of 12, I knew it would be my career.”

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