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Beyond the Cockpit: Austin Cindric, a Young Jack of Trades

When you were 17 years old, what were you doing? For most people, they would have been going to school, trying to get good grades. Maybe thinking about college in the near future. Oh yes, and getting a driver’s license so that you can drive yourself around town. They might also have a part-time job to earn some spending money.

For Austin Cindric, he has school like any other 17-year-old, and he has his own driver’s license for public roads. However, his job is a little more exciting than what most high schoolers can snag. He drives anything he can get his hands on that has four wheels. Doesn’t matter what discipline that car is in.

If the last name sounds familiar to you, it probably should. Austin is the son of Tim Cindric, President of Team Penske and longtime confidant of Roger Penske. As a result, he has grown up with motorsports in his life from day one. However, Austin actually driving a racecar never really crossed the minds of Tim and Megan (Austin’s mother).

Like many children, Austin loved playing with miniature toy cars, like Hot Wheels, Matchbox and the like. One day when Austin was nine, he announced his desire to drive racecars to his parents. The Cindrics were somewhat taken aback by Austin’s statement. However, knowing the reality of motorsports, Tim insisted on Austin driving as many different types of equipment as possible so that he would be enticing to a large race team like Team Penske.

Austin started off in Bandoleros, much like a number of drivers have in recent years. Later on, he moved up to Legends and dabbled in karting as well. 2012 saw him contest the Skip Barber Winter Series, an entry level open-wheel series. There, he found success in the small winged vehicles, scoring a couple of victories.

For 2013, Cindric moved up to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. This particular series is three levels down the ladder from the Verizon IndyCar Series on Mazda’s Road to Indy ladder. The bigger, more powerful, machinery was a challenge at first for the 15-year-old, but he adjusted over time, taking three top-10 finishes.

In addition to his open-wheel exploits, Cindric also dabbled in Historic Sportscar Racing, running a Porsche 944 Turbo, he holds the record as the youngest driver ever to win an HSR race.

2014 saw Cindric set out on another brand-new challenge in Red Bull Global RallyCross’s GRC Lites division.

“GRC Lites is a spec car, purpose built for RallyCross racing,” Austin explained at Lime Rock Park. “It’s four-wheel drive, 300 horsepower. It’s designed to be the step-up series into the Supercars.”

The Supercars are 600 horsepower, turbocharged beasts that are some of the fastest accelerating racecars outside of drag strips.

If you ever see a GRC Lites broadcast on NBCSN, you’ll notice that the GRC Lites cars all resemble Ford Fiestas. In Europe, there are two-door variants of the Fiesta hatchback for sale. Both the Supercar Fiesta and the GRC Lites Fiesta are based on it.

(Note: The recent Los Angeles rounds for GRC Lites airs Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.; if you have access to NBC Sports Live Extra, you can watch the telecast online at any time after the original broadcast)

In his rookie year, Austin finished fifth in points with three podium finishes in the GRC Lites Fiesta for Olsbergs MSC. In addition, he won a bronze medal at X Games Austin 2014 in RallyCross Lites. And all of that was accomplished while Austin was still driving full-time in Cooper Tires USF2000. There, he earned his first podium finish and 10 more top-10 finishes.

Outside of his two touring series, Cindric participated in a number of driving schools and tests, all designed to get him that all-important seat time. In all, Cindric drove 18 different racecars at some point in 2014, but not all of them in races.

2015 has seen Austin continue to tackle GRC Lites, where he is currently tied for the point lead with Miles Maroney on the strength of three victories. In addition, Austin has started a full assault on sports car racing. That started with an appearance in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour in January, driving a Mercedes AMG SLS-GT3 for Erebus Motorsport. Two weeks later, Austin started his full-time gig in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge’s Grand Sport class for Multimatic Motorsports.

Despite Austin’s general inexperience in sports cars, the 2015 season has gone fairly well. The team started out with the older Ford Mustang BOSS 302R, but debuted the new Shelby GT350R-C at Watkins Glen in June. The duo of Cindric and Jade Buford won with their No. 158 the second time out at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

At Lime Rock, a week after the aforementioned victory, Cindric was impressed with his form up to that point.

“I think [our season’s] been going great,” he said. “With the new car, we’re carrying a lot more momentum into the second half of the season. I feel like the top three is within grasp. I don’t think we can win the championship because [Stevenson Motorsports’ No. 6 and Rum Bum Racing] are pretty far out there, but anything’s possible in this sport.”

Doing both series has resulted in some creative situations.

The Lime Rock weekend in particular was a time crunch for Austin. July 24th saw Cindric start the two-hour IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Lime Rock, come in for the driver change in the natural flow of the race, then immediately skip town so that he could compete in the GRC Lites round that same day in Detroit. Austin’s No. 158 Shelby GT350R-C finished second overall in the hands of Buford, who represented his car alone on the podium.

The original plan was to have another driver fill in for him in his scheduled heat, then Austin would drive in the Last Chance Qualifier. However, no LCQ was required. Austin went out and finished third in the feature race later that afternoon.

Since stock car racing is Frontstretch’s bread and butter, the first time that many of you reading this article saw of Cindric was when he competed in his first stock car race, the #ThisIsMySpeedway 150, an ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards event at Iowa Speedway, held as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend. Driving the only car in the field with the new Five-Star body (the other ARCA teams had deemed it uncompetitive), Cindric drove his Cunningham Motorsports No. 99 AutoZone Ford to a fourth-place finish, leading 29 laps in the process.

“[Driving a stock car] was all a learning experience,” he explained. “I went from knowing absolutely nothing about how to drive a stock car to learning quite a bit over the race.

“It was awesome; it was a great experience to be able to do my first stock car race,” he continued. “Going into the race, I told myself that I came away with a top five, I’d be happy. [Then], I started leading some laps and got jumbled around on a couple restarts. I was kind of frustrated that I didn’t win, but in hindsight, it was a great experience and I hope to do it again one day.”

The deal with Cunningham Motorsports was ultimately a one-race deal. The AutoZone sponsorship was a package deal that also saw the auto parts store serve as an associate sponsor on Juan Pablo Montoya‘s No. 2 Verizon-sponsored entry in the Iowa Corn Indy 300 the next night. Austin does want to have another go, but his busy schedule makes it very difficult. ARCA races as a support to the Xfinity Series in the Crosley Brands 150 at Kentucky Speedway on Sep. 25. At the time we talked to Austin, he was hoping to put something together to try ARCA again. While no official news has been released on the topic, Cindric’s name does appear on the official entry list in the No. 99 Ford for Cunningham Motorsports. It would be his first career stock car race on a superspeedway.

The sky looks to be the limit for Austin, however, being only 17 does close some doors. He turns 18 on Sept. 2, 2016. Until then, he’ll keep on doing what he’s been doing.

“For next year, I’ll look at my options and see what’s open,” Austin said. “I’ve developed quite a good relationship with the Multimatic guys as well with the guys at [Olsbergs] MSC. We’ll see where it takes us.”

For the young Austin, his talent can take him anywhere he wants to go. The young man has no real preference for which direction his career will take him. He’ll take whatever he can get his hands on. That versatility is probably the hallmark of Cindric’s career to this point.

Cindric’s next race is the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge round at Circuit of the Americas. That race can be seen on IMSA.com at 1:40 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The race will air on FOX Sports 1 at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27.

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