We are proud to announce that our sponsored driver, Austin Riley, won the season kick-off of the U.S Radical season last weekend! Spark has been sponsoring Racing with Autism for the past three years and in that time, he has never ceased to impress.
We extend a heartfelt congratulations to Austin and everyone on his team!
Jason Riley’s First-Hand Account of the Race
Our race season started this past weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. Austin was taking part in the season kick-off of the U.S Radical season which would see Austin face 32 other competitors in a huge grid of cars! This was also IndyCar weekend at Barber so the crowds were huge! It was so nice to see fans at a racetrack again. We arrived at the track on Wednesday around lunchtime, picked up our credentials, and got our paddock space set up. Team Racing With Autism is the only 1 car entry in the whole Radical field.
Practice would start early Thursday morning under sunny skies. In the 3 practice sessions of the day, Austin would be P2, P1, and P4 respectively despite still having a fuel delivery issue and using very old tires. Before we traveled to Barber we had repacked the inside of the fuel tank, replaced the fuel pump, and changed the fuel regulator, so we were pretty bummed when we had to pull out the fuel tank again at the end of the day. Thankfully, another team who had been experiencing a similar issue on one of their cars came over to help diagnose things. It was almost 9 pm when we got the car back together ready for our final practice very early on Friday morning. On Friday Austin radioed in and said the car was finally fixed and we were feeling confident going into qualifying. Austin qualified 4th in class, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Someone else crashed on Austin’s flying lap that would have seen him on pole by 3 tenths but the red flag came out just before he crossed the line and timing nullified that lap.
Going into race one of the weekend we were quietly confident Austin would at least make the podium. Austin had a decent start when the green flag dropped and made a good entry into turn one only to get drilled from behind by another car that had lost control under braking and collected Austin in the process. The whole left side of the car was badly damaged, with the rear wheel and suspension taking the brunt of the impact. Thankfully Austin was unhurt in the collision but it was going to be a very long night at the track trying to put the car back together for another early start the next day. We had to replace the left rear spindle, upper and lower “A” arms, the whole left side sidepod and the left side drive shaft. 7 hours after impact we had Dixie back together and looking like a race car again and ready for another early start on Saturday morning.
We arrived very early Saturday morning ready to go, our driver on the other hand was feeling pretty sore from the impact the day before but was still eager to give it a go. He would have to start at the rear of the field(33rd) for race 2. As soon as the green flag dropped we all held our breath as Austin wheeled the car into turn 1 hoping to see the car come out of turn 3 in one piece. It did, and it was flying. Austin had made up 4 spots by then and was hungry for more. An early caution bunched up the field again and Austin had another great start, he was picking them off lap after lap. At the end of the 40 min race Austin had made it all the way up to 15th place overall and just missed the podium in class by finishing 4th. The series gave Austin the hard charger award for the most cars passed in the race. This award is not normally given to someone in Austin’s class. It normally goes to one of the 450hp Platinum cars that starts at the back for the field for whatever reason and just powers past everyone. They couldn’t remember the last time they gave it to someone in Austin’s class.
In the final race of the weekend, Austin was back in his starting position from race one, but we were all hoping for a much better outcome! Austin had a great start and after a few inspired passes he had settled into 2nd and took on the task of chasing down the leader who at the 1/4 point of the race had a few second lead over Austin. Lap after lap Austin would be the fastest car in class by a second! It didn’t take him long to find himself on the rear bumper of the leader. Just then a crash in a different class of cars brought out a lengthy safety car. It was going to come down to the last few laps of the race. On the restart, Austin was jumped by two cars from behind which would see him sitting 4th again with only a few minutes to go. Austin made two spectacular passes on the next lap getting back to second place again with the task of catching the leader. When the last lap flag came out a few laps later Austin was once again on the leader’s bumper and they both approached lapped traffic. The leader who was under extreme pressure from Austin forced the slower driver off the track in an effort to keep Austin behind him. Austin was able to avoid the spinning car and catch the leader again by the checkered flag cross in line in second, which given the weekend we have had, we were very happy with. When the podium presentation started after the race and they announced another driver for 2nd place, we were not quite sure what was going on. The gathered crowd of fans looked confused as well. Then they announced Austin as the winner and the crowd erupted!!! It was an overwhelming moment. The other driver had been disqualified for several offenses during the race handing Austin a well-earned victory!!!!
As an added bonus, Austin was able to meet one of his racing idols, Scott Dixon! As you can see by the smile on Austin’s face, it was a dream come true.
Spark 100: Building Stronger Communities
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.