Drag racing: More than just winning
TONAWANDA — When Austin Abel was eight years old, his birthday gift wish included a drag racing car, not a toy, but a full-blown car since he had already chosen his future career as a drag racing driver.
Austin, a freshman at Cardinal O’Hara High School, said his dad took him to Lancaster Speedway to a drag racing event when he was 7 years old.
“My dad is into drag racing and my uncle is a pro racer who likes to talk to people. His car can go 330 miles per hour,” he said.
Before he was 9, Austin was certified to drive and had his competition driver’s license as well as his World Drag Racing Alliance license.
On his 9th birthday, he and his dad, Scott Abel, attended a race at Lancaster where they looked at some cars that were on sale.
Pointing to one, his dad said, “That’s your birthday present.”
“I was so surprised,” Austin said. “I gave up the other sports I was in and that was the best decision I ever made.”
Austin raced a half-season at 9, a full season at 10 and was in the top races when he was 11. By then, he placed third at Lancaster. The car is weighed each week. His new racer weighs 600 pounds with him in it, 415 pounds of which is the single cylinder, 5 horsepower engine. “Like a lawn mower engine,” he quipped.
When he races, there are two lanes and each driver must select the exact moment to start to get the most out of his car and not be disqualified. The goal is to have a perfect reaction time.
“I set the record as the first kid to have a perfect reaction time. It takes a lot of practice and I practice 100 times a day to achieve this goal.”
Last year, Austin won the Race of Champions at Lancaster Speedway, his home track, and had hoped to make it two in a row Aug. 29. However, the race was cancelled, much to Austin’s disappointment.
The family travels with an RV and a trailer for his colorful, sleek racer that is decorated as “The Joker’s Wild” along with sponsor logos. They travel a WDRA circuit to North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, among other states.
“My mom, Melissa, is with us. She takes care of us and the dog,” he laughed.
However, racing and winning is not the whole story.
Austin decided to give his winnings to various causes. Last year his donation was given to Autism Services, this year $500 to Roswell Park and next year, Make a Wish Foundation.
“He’s excited that people will read about what he so enjoys doing,” Melissa Abel said. “Austin’s determination and dedication to racing is so impressive. He never ceases to amaze us. His determination this year to donate winnings to Roswell has just overwhelmed us. When he would win and we would congratulate him he’d reply with a smile, ‘That’s more money for Roswell.’”
Austin Abel: A teen with a purpose.