Last week, Austin Riley — part of the Racing with Autism team — took to the track at the Sebring International Raceway for the final Radical North America race of the year in Florida.
Austin’s father, Jason Riley, sent through a first-hand account of the amazing race week:
After 23 hours of travel time in the truck, we were glad to arrive at the track and stretch our legs a bit. Once we got our pit spot set up, we were ready for action.
Austin had never been to Sebring before so this would be a learning experience for him and us as we were just guessing at the set up on the car. Austin progressed throughout the first practice session and improved his time, lap by lap. He said the car felt good so we just left the car as is to let him get comfortable.
In the second and final session, Austin picked up the pace and was among the top three in the timing sheets throughout the session. Going into Thursday morning’s qualifying session, we were fairly confident of some good results.
We arrived at the track very early Thursday to prep the car for qualifying. The weather had changed a great deal from the previous day. There was 100% chance of precipitation throughout the day and the rain started right before qualifying.
We headed to grid not knowing what to expect from the skies, but apart from a few drops of rain at the midway point, it stayed dry for the session and Austin would finish a more than respectable 3rd in class.
Next up was the first race of the event. After a bit of car maintenance, we headed back to the grid ready for the first race. I could see Austin was a bit nervous going in; he really wanted to do well this weekend. Unfortunately, things at the start didn’t go so well. Leaving the grid for the formation lap, Austin stalled the car and it wouldn’t restart for him as everyone else pulled away. With the help of several other team’s mechanics, they were able to push start Austin and get him on track but he would have to start dead last. Austin gained a few spots off the start as the rain started lightly. The slippery conditions helped Austin’s plight forward as he tends to excel in these types of conditions. Throughout the race, Austin continued to work through the field and was now in sight of the leaders. He was able to gain one more spot with two laps to go that would see him cross the line in 3rd place coming from the rear of the field! This feat was made more impressive once we got his car back from technical inspection and saw that his front splitter was badly damaged. Another driver had spun off the track ahead of Austin, and when that driver rejoined the race he dragged a big chunk of concrete back on to the track which unfortunately for Austin, he collected. We had a pretty big repair to make before the second race of the day later that afternoon.
We borrowed a spare splitter from another team to put on the car. The replacement was complete about 15 mins before we went to grid. It was still raining but very lightly; not enough to run rain tires. Austin would start the race 2nd in class. Unlike his last race, Austin had no problem leaving the grid and he had a great start. He had a 40 minute battle with the leader, which would see them swap fast lap of the race almost lap by lap. They were so quick in fact, that the current class champion was almost 23 seconds behind them by the checkered flag. Austin made a last ditch effort to claim victory in the last turn but came up about two tenths short finishing 2nd. What a great race.
The bad weather had passed and we arrived at the track under sunny skies. This was the final race of the North American Radical seasons and they finished it off in style. All of the cars were parked on the grid and all of the spectators were invited onto the grid to see the cars and meet the drivers. Austin was in his glory signing autographs for almost an hour! He was very calm and relaxed as we readied for the final race and he was confident that he would have a go at finishing on the top step. Austin, again, would start this race in P2. Off the start, Austin lost a couple of spots to higher powered cars only to see those two cars crash in front of him entering turn one. He had to take evasive action to escape the chaos and rejoined the race well down the order as lap one ended. Over the next few laps, Austin made good progress and had made it back to position three in class and was gaining on 1st and 2nd by the halfway mark. As an added feature in this race, Austin would have to make a required timed pitstop. We told Austin on the radio to pit when the second place guy pits which he did, and he was perfect throughout the whole stop. When he exited pit lane the 2nd place guy was able to clear 2 slower cars who were battling and Austin couldn’t. These slower lapping cars had more power than Austin which made it difficult for him to pass. He was stuck behind them for several laps until they pitted also, but the damage was done. Austin was now sitting 4th and 1st, 2nd and 3rd places were several seconds ahead of him. There wasn’t enough time left in the race to catch them no matter how hard he tried. Tough break to end the season on, but overall an amazing performance and debut in the Radical North American Series.
Interested in connecting with Austin and the Racing with Autism team?
On December 18th, Austin and his family will be at Barber Motorsports Park for a charity lapping day. This is an opportunity to connect with the team and learn more about Austin’s racing journey.
Spark is committed to supporting our local communities through our Spark100 program. For more information on Racing with Autism and Austin’s journey, visit their website.