MOBILE, Ala. — Story by Race Chaser Online Midwest Correspondent Aaron Bearden — AWS Racing photo —
Austin Wayne Self is gearing up for an ARCA Racing Series championship.
Self, 18, is set for his second race with Mason Mitchell Motorsports, the ARCA Mobile 200 in Mobile, Ala., this afternoon as part of his second full season in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards in 2015.
Oh, by the way? He’ll start on the pole as well — following a rainout of Friday’s qualifying session.
Self won the SCOTT Rookie of the Year award in 2014, bringing home five top-fives and 13 top-10s with veteran team Cunningham Motorsports en-route to a sixth-place finish in series points.
Last season was a success by most measures, but 2015 promises to be even greater for Self. Not only is he more experienced after a full season of action, he’s moved over to the defending champion team, Mason Mitchell Motorsports.
The move clearly added confidence for Self.
“I feel really good. You know, last year I felt like I was with a really good team, but this year I’m with the reigning championship team, so I feel like I’ve got a little more confidence this year,” said Self on Thursday’s Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show. “These guys have been working hard all week getting these cars ready, and I think we’re going to have a really strong weekend.”
“We’ve got (team owner Mason Mitchell) out here driving the [No.] 78, so we’ll be able to work together and try to get these cars out front. I know our Ford’s going to be really strong, and I think we’d both like to take home a jukebox (the trophy at Mobile). As long as we can stay in front of Grant (Enfinger), I feel like we’ve got a shot this week.”
Self acknowledged that his experience would be a major help as well.
“I’ve got a lot more confidence,” said Self. “You know, you show up at the racetrack and you’re one step ahead. You know what the track looks like, how it’s going to feel, so you’re able to attack the race track and try to find what the car wants. I feel like I’m a step ahead there, even with Mason.”
Self was joined for the entire interview by his friend and team owner, Mason Mitchell. Mitchell, 20, surprised ARCA fans in his second full season, taking home the 2014 series championship with an average finish of 3.8. Mitchell brought home a win, 12 top-fives, and 18 top-10s in one of the best displays of consistency ARCA has ever seen.
Self expressed his excitement about running with Mitchell.
“I’ve known Mason for a couple of years now racing with him, and known him as a driver, so at that standpoint, it’s really cool,” said Self. “Even off the track I feel like Mason’s a really great guy, and he’s really smart. Off the track, there’s a lot of things I’ve learned from him.”
“He’s so young. Is this the youngest team out there?” Self asked Mitchell, who could be heard confirming his question. “Yeah, I think we’re the youngest team out there with our owner-driver situation.”
“Some people don’t look at that as a positive thing, but in my shoes I feel like it can be better. I’ve got a guy here that knows how I drive and knows what I want out of the race car. He’s raced me, so he can kind of predict how I’m going to be doing out there. I think it’s a really cool deal, and I couldn’t be happier here.”
When asked about the changing of teams, Self acknowledged that the smaller team was a much different situation than the one he left at his former team, Cunningham Motorsports.
“I think the biggest difference is it’s a smaller team, so we’re able to focus one one race car…focus on the 98 car, and making sure that’s going to be the fastest car this weekend,” said Self. “I felt like last year with Cunningham (Motorsports), I learned a lot. A lot of stuff I learned, I felt like it out me in a good position to drive a championship car, to be able to run for wins and a championship.”
After his impressive rookie year, Self said the transition to MMM was going well.
“I feel like the transition has been pretty smooth, and I feel like you could ask Mason the same thing and we’d both have the same answer,” said Self. “I think we’re both excited to get out there and really attack this season. Daytona went really well, but I’m pretty happy to get back to short tracks. I think it’s going to be a really great year.”
Despite their different driving styles, Self seemed confident in the teamwork between himself and Mitchell — with one tiny drawback.
“I think the [only] problem’s going to be if we get down to the last few laps and we’re running one-two, what are we going to do?,” Self admitted. “[We’re] drivers out there, so if it comes down to the last few laps, [we’re] going to respect each other, but I think we both want to win.”
That statement from Self must’ve struck his team owner the wrong way, because he followed it with a few comical statements.
“I don’t think (Mason) likes what I’m saying,” Self joked.
“You guys aren’t the one that own the car, either. It’s like a 10 hour drive back, too. That’s another thing right there,” Self added when discussion about how fun the teammates racing would be cropped up.
Self clearly expressed his goal for the year — a championship — but he also didn’t deny his biggest competition. With defending champion Mason Mitchell only running a part-time schedule, Self is left with 2014 runner-up and Daytona winner Grant Enfinger to fight for the season title.
“I feel like Grant’s going to be strong everywhere we go,” said Self. “He was strong last year. He’s going to be strong this year. But, I feel like Mason’s going to be able to help us, too. He’s definitely experienced, and I feel like on the side he is, even though he’s not in the race car, I feel like he wants to win just as bad as I do. I think with two drivers — I still consider Mason a driver, even though he’s a car owner — but two drivers with a passion for winning, I feel like we can accomplish (a title).”
In order to win the title, Self acknowledged a need for consistency.
“(The goal is) really staying focused on being consistent,” said Self. “I think going into this year, that’s going to have to be the main focus; keeping your head up each weekend no matter what, and keeping your eyes in the big picture. That big picture starts Saturday.”
Self joins a stacked field of drivers in the ARCA Mobile 200, including Matt Tifft, Mason Mitchell, and Brandon Jones. With Daytona done, the real bulk of the ARCA season, and grind that follows, is beginning.
Just don’t be surprised if Self is on top of the grind when it all ends.
Listen in to Race Chaser Online’s complete interview with Austin Wayne Self from Thursday night’s Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show by clicking on the player below: