From Texas to North Carolina, Austin Wayne Self has always been a top-tier driver. Now running his second full-time season in the ARCA Series, the 19-year-old joined Mason Mitchell Motorsports over the off-season in hopes of winning a championship. With a chance at stardom, he hopes to follow in team owner Mason Mitchell’s footsteps, which would give the team back-to-back ARCA Series titles.
After running his rookie season for Cunningham Motorsports, he parted ways with the multi-car team. Wanting to have the focus on his efforts, he found Mitchell’s team, which was searching for a driver with funding for the fresh season. Self spoke with Frontstretch about his new job, what he has planned for the future, the new ARCA rules package and what he calls life in “Redneck Hollywood.”
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch: How would you evaluate your first few races of the year?
Austin Wayne Self: I think we’ve had quite a bit of success so far. When we made the move over from Cunningham Motorsports to this smaller team, I felt like there were some changes we had to make. I have to get used to the new team, and I need to get the feel of a new car.
On top of that, ARCA came out with the spec motor with Ilmor and a new body style. Sometimes, that could be hard for teams to make that transition and get a hold of that. I feel that Mason Mitchell Motorsports has been able to make a solid transition not only with the racecars, but with engines. I think Daytona went really well. Mason and I were really fast. I didn’t get the finish that I wanted to, but that’s Daytona and leaving with the car in one piece was good. In the first two races, I think it has been a success. I’ve learned a lot, and in both races that we’ve been to, we were a threat.
When we went to Mobile, I felt like we had a chance to win there. We had a racecar that could beat Grant [Enfinger]. But the team worked 100%, so I’m looking forward to this week [at Nashville]. We tested at Nashville a couple of weeks ago, and it went really well. Everything at Mason Mitchell Motorsports has been really good. I’ve met a bunch of really great guys and we’re all working really hard.
Wolkin: What are your expectations for the remainder of the season?
Self: The expectation is always to finish the races and try to grab points. If we are put into a position to run up front, which I think we will be, I think we will win some races. Grant has won the first two races already this year, but he won the first three races and Mason was able to work hard and was able to take home the championship. Right now, I’m not worried about anybody else. I’m just working hard like we have been, and I feel like we can win some races. I think a championship is in the picture.
Wolkin: After Mason won the ARCA Series championship last year, what do you need to do to bring the team its second title?
Self: I think hard work and staying focused. Fortunately, I have Mason at the shop and the racetrack, so I am able to get advice from him. Having him around is a really good asset. He does a really good job with the race team. I feel like we are in a really good position. I have the 2014 champion on my team and backing me up. We have Matt Weber (originally signed with Team BCR in December) as the crew chief. He won some races last year, and actually won the race at Chicago with Mason. I worked with Matt before, so we work really well together.
Wolkin: What’s the biggest difference between the steel and composite bodies?
Self: Right now, I think the biggest difference is how you get them. Before, the only place you could get them was in Charlotte. With the new Five-Star body, you are able to replace the nose, the side doors and all of that. Driving the racecar, with the new bodies and rules, they are a little bit lighter.
On the short tracks, aero is not really put into play. I kept saying before Mobile that we were going to be able to see how it would hold up, and we had a little bit of damage. I can’t say that it held up any better or any worse than the steel body. I think they look cool, too. That’s a big deal to me. Getting to drive cool, fast racecars – that ain’t bad at all.
Wolkin: What do you believe you must improve on as a driver in order to get into Victory Lane entering your second full-time season?
Self: Last year, I felt like I was kind of knocking on the door. It was the biggest learning year for me. We set our goal to win Rookie of the Year, and we were able to do that. I hadn’t been on a track over one-mile, so I had to adapt to these 1.5-mile tracks, superspeedways and dirt tracks. Now when I get to the racetrack, I can focus on the small stuff and work toward those extra tenths and be prepared everywhere else that I go.
The biggest thing as a driver that I would like to work on is getting more familiar underneath the hood. I look at Grant Enfinger, and I look up to him a lot, and he knows the racecar from the floor to the rear end. He knows everything about these racecars. I feel that I’d better myself as a driver if I’m able to learn a little bit more about the racecars.
Wolkin: How has Mason helped you since you signed with the team?
Self: Mason won the championship last year, and when we show up at the race track, he already has planned what he wants to do. He was in my position last year, so just having him there and already experienced with what I’m going through right now is already a big help. We have similar driving styles, so we’re able to compare notes and speak about things here and there.
Wolkin: What is the biggest difference that you have noticed between Mason Mitchell Motorsports and Cunningham Motorsports?
Self: The biggest difference and the reason we decided to make the change is the small shop feeling. Cunningham has two racecars, and even at times had three racecars with another driver that wasn’t on the team all year. Things got a little hectic. Switching over to Mason’s team, the focus is all on one car.
We have the No. 98 car, besides the two races that Mason ran to start the year, one crew chief and everybody is working together. We have one goal. Sometimes, when you get two cars on a team, it’s not really a rivalry, but the team that finishes better has the bragging rights. I feel like with a smaller team, we are able to focus on what we need in that racecar for the next race, and we are able to focus on the things ahead a little bit better instead of worrying about another racecar that’s sitting around.
Wolkin: When did you make that decision to leave Cunningham Motorsports for Mason’s team?
Self: We made the announcement in December, but I think we started talking to Mason at Kansas or just after Kansas. We just started talking with the off-season coming up. We were looking to see if he wanted to do something. Mason and I got to talking, and everything just played out pretty well. It was really a natural transition.
Wolkin: Now that you are 19 years old, what is your plan to move up through the rankings, especially since you have a sponsor that’s strongly backing you?
Self: I got a lot of questions like that last year, and a couple of people were surprised that we weren’t going to do anything in the top-three NASCAR series. For me, I personally I feel like I need more experience on these big tracks. I want to win an ARCA championship. That’s something that I want on my resume, and something I want to go to sleep at night knowing I have under my belt.
Right now, ARCA is my priority. I feel like after this year, we can start looking to see where we want to head and where we want to go. I would like to do anything really. It doesn’t matter to me. It could be an Xfinity Series car, a truck or even and IndyCar Series car if that’s what we want to go and do. I’d like to see myself racing in the Truck Series or Xfinity Series.
Wolkin: How do you feel the ARCA Series helps develop your skill set opposed to the K&N Pro Series?
Self: The ARCA cars are a lot more similar to an NXS car. The K&N cars run a bias-ply tire. In 2013, I raced a few K&N races, and to me, it didn’t feel like it was as solid as the ARCA Series. I didn’t feel like I was learning that much. In the ARCA Series, we do pit stops and we go to Chicago, Michigan, Daytona, Talladega and even a few dirt races.
That wide variety of race tracks prepares you really well. The K&N Series has great exposure, but for me and what I want to do, I feel the ARCA Series is perfect for me right now. After this year, I feel like I’m going to be a better driver and person. I’m going to be ready to do something bigger.
Wolkin: What is the biggest challenge you face while trying to make a name for yourself?
Self: The biggest challenge is the amount of people trying to make a name for themselves. There are plenty of other great drivers out there, and a lot of them can win races. I have a great group on social media, and I feel like I am a little more committed and I want it more than most of those guys out there.
Being patient can sometimes be a challenge. You have to sit back and soak everything in. You see some of these other guys that you are racing with move up to the trucks or NXS, and that makes you a little impatient.
Wolkin: How do you manage your time between racing and school?
Self: It gets hard. It is definitely a lot more fun to be around the race track and in the race shop, but I try to squeeze it in the morning. I’ll go to the race shop and even work on it some there. I try to mix it in throughout the week with the racing stuff. Mason actually even offered to help me if I needed it, so he’s not only helping me with racing, he’s helping me with everything.
Wolkin: What’s your backup plan if racing doesn’t work out?
Self: I’m always thinking about racing. I’ve had a few ideas. Even if racing does work out, I want to own a business. My plan is to own a business and use my racing to promote it and get it going. I don’t know. I’ve been focused on racing and I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.
Wolkin: What’s the biggest difference that you have had in your life since moving to North Carolina from Texas?
Self: Well, now I have to pay bills on a house. Mom and Dad aren’t always around. It’s been a big responsibility. It’s really cool that racing has opened up an opportunity to affect my personal life now. I’m growing up I guess is what they call it. I’m debating whether I need that extra wi-fi or going out to eat.
It’s more work now. I guess I’m becoming an adult, and it’s a little hard to wake up and pay the bills. You live in North Carolina and you’re basically living racing. Before, you lived racing, but now you live, eat, breathe and sleep racing. It’s around you all the time. I think I saw Greg Biffle at Starbucks yesterday. I call it “Redneck Hollywood” because it is nothing but racecar drivers and the racecar life up here. My friends at home ask me what it’s like and I’m like man, it’s different. If you want to be a racecar driver, you come to Charlotte and you live it.