With a family that grew up in the Southern California car culture, it was inevitable that Austin Edwards would be racing. Edwards’ grandfather, father, uncle and cousins all raced circle tracks and when he was only a few days old, his family brought him to the track.
“I had watched my family do it since I was born,” Edwards said. “I don’t know anyone in my family that hasn’t raced a car. It’s definitely a family thing.”
The 14-year-old Edwards hopes to make a name for himself in NASA after joining the Spec Miata class this season. The teenager has had great success climbing the ranks, but knows that learning momentum racing is the biggest challenge yet.
“Since I was 8 years old, I haven’t driven a road course, so back to turning right has been a good experience for me,” he said. “I’m learning heel-toe shifting and just every little apex on the track that I’m learning to hit. It’s been a blast.”
Edwards started racing karts at age 5. Three years later he moved into Bandolero racing, where he won a California state championship when he was 10. Since then he’s raced a Southwest Tour Truck and Junior Late Model car before joining Spec Miata. Austin’s father, Tony, has served as his coach through the process.
Making the move into Spec Miata, Edwards went into a racecar with far less horsepower than the 350 to 600 horsepower models he raced previously. Edwards believes racing in the momentum class will make him a better racer.
“Making a mistake in the Miata class will definitely show more than it would in a stock car because of the low horsepower,” Edwards said. “It becomes more important to be as perfect as you can in every corner and hitting every mark.”
James Brown, who has worked with Edwards and other young drivers as a coach with the Robert Davis Racing team, said going into a lower horsepower racecar makes it harder for drivers to recover from mistakes and mask driving deficiencies.
“It’s going to be quite frustrating initially for somebody that’s used to horsepower to pull back into a momentum type class but that’s the beauty of momentum classes,” Brown said. “They give you the ability, the skills that you need in order to manage horsepower so when you make that transition up in horsepower, you can manage that horsepower and take advantage of every bit of it.”
Brown stresses patience with younger drivers who move into sports-car racing, telling them it will be a two- to three-year process before they can hope to achieve some measure of success. It typically takes two years before a young racer is on the podium and in the third year they are usually at the front of the class and consistently winning races, Brown said.
“I tell every single young driver that I meet, ‘I already know you are fast. You are a champion. You’re fast but be patient,’” Brown said. “And I tell them up front, ‘You are going to be frustrated, you are going to reach a point where there is a bit of frustration probably. It doesn’t happen all the time but count on it.’”
The other adjustment moving from circle tracks to road racing for Edwards is passing racers. “In circle track, using your bumper to move someone out of the way is a normal thing,” Edwards said. “I’m more of a fan of the respectful racing that I’ve seen out of NASA so far.”
Edwards has ambitions of racing professionally, but for now he’s having to rely on family, friends and a few sponsors to fund his racing. The high school freshman is enrolled in a hybrid program that allows Edwards to get his diploma and pursue racing.
Before starting the school year, Edwards was busy repairing his racecar that had caught fire from a fuel line leak. Edwards wasn’t hurt but the car wasn’t so lucky.
“The fender is all right, the hood got burned through, so the hood is junk,” he said. “We had to re-undercoat pretty much the entire engine compartment and anything rubber or plastic around the engine was melted too. My transmission used to be gray but now it’s a very, very dark black.”
Edwards learned to work on cars while watching his dad and cousins race at the track. His family owns a towing business out of Mentone, California, so he’s seen his share of wreckers come into the tow yard. Edwards thinks having that mechanical know-how is an advantage because he can tell the team the problems he’s experienced on track.
“If you don’t understand how much work it takes, you are not going to drive your car as successfully as you probably should,” he said. “I think no matter how many people you have helping you, you should be working on your car if you are driving it.”
A limited budget meant Edwards could only do a few races in his first year with NASA, but he plans to be part of the Teen Mazda Challenge for 2020. He hopes to add a data system to his racecar in the offseason and continue to upgrade his car.
If Edwards isn’t working on his car or at the track, the teenager volunteers at Yucaipa Animal Placement Society near his home in Southern California. Edwards started volunteering at age 8 at the no-kill shelter after meeting a few dogs and the people who worked there. He cleans the kennels, feeds the dogs and works on socializing the animals with people.
When Edwards started racing Bandolero, he was lacking a big-time sponsor so he put YAPS on his racecar. He talked to fans and local businesses about the shelter and raised more than $18,000 for the nonprofit. It’s rightly a source of pride for Edwards.
“There have been dogs there for multiple years that still go to a great home and they are living their best life,” he said. “It’s one of the best things I like about the shelter and I hope I can make more shelters like it in the future.”
|Racing Class:||Spec Miata, Junior Late Model|
|Sponsors:||Cal’s Towing, C&M Electric, Burgeson’s Heating & Air|
|Day Job:||Working on racecars, still a kid|
|Favorite Food:||Quiznos anything|
|Favorite TV show:||Battlebots|
|Favorite Movie:||Days of Thunder|
|Favorite Book:||The Art of Racing in the Rain|
|Favorite Track:||Auto Club Speedway|
|Dream Racecar:||NASCAR Cup car or F1|