Young Racer Thinks of Dad
By John Dell /JOURNAL REPORTER
Journal Photo by Lauren Carroll
Published:July 11, 2009
Austin Pack had a message for his late father on his race car as he prepares for last night's race with his grandfather Gene.
Generations of fans have flocked to Bowman Gray Stadium in 61 years of racing. Those generations have also included the drivers.
Last night another driver from the Pack family joined in the fun when Austin Pack, who just turned 16 last week, drove in the 100-lap Modified race.
Pack, who is thought to be one of the youngest drivers ever in a Modified race, was thinking of his late father, Brian, who was a constant fixture at the stadium. Brian died last July in a motorcycle accident.
"I'm both excited and nervous," Pack said before the race, while trying to look calm in the pits. "It's going to be emotional because it's my first race, but I've been getting behind the wheel the last four or five weeks to get used to the car."
Pack drove the No. 81 car, the same car his father drove. Not a lot has changed on the car, other than a message Austin had written on the side panel that read "I love you daddy."
Pack decided to wear his father's helmet and gloves. He said it's a great way to honor his father in his first race.
While Austin was trying to remain calm before the race, the same could not be said for his grandfather, Gene, who has raced at the stadium for the past 32 years. Gene, 56, was also in the Modified race.
"I think both of us are a little nervous," Gene said. "It's going to be emotional for both of us, but he kept his end of the bargain for getting to race. He's an honor student, starts as an all-star on the baseball team and starts on the football team, so we promised we'd put him in the car."
Austin, who will be a junior at Carver, looks older than 16. He hasn't shaved in about a month, but said he wasn't trying to look older. "I just thought I'd let it grow a little bit," he said, smiling.
Gene said that seeing Austin behind the wheel is something he has looked forward to for a long time.
As for the decision to wear a lot of his father's gear, Gene said that was something Austin wanted to do. "That's all of his to use the gloves and the same helmet and all of that," Gene said. "He's no different than I treated his dad -- you make your own decisions and live with those decisions."
Grandpa gave grandson lots of advice.
"Don't try to press anybody and don't try and do anything the car can't do," Austin said. "He just said to stay out of trouble as much as you can."
Austin finished 13th, and Gene got tangled up in a three-car wreck on lap 14 just out of turn three. He went to the pits, but returned a few laps later and finished 16th.
Grandfather and grandson actually came together for a wreck in lap 34 in turn three. It was Austin's first wreck of his career, but at least it was all in the family. Neither car was damaged badly, and they continued.
Afterward, Gene said that the wreck had to do with a miscommunication from the spotters. Gene joked and said: "What's Austin gonna do? I own his car."
Austin drew the fourth starting position in the draw but elected to start in the back of the field and drove conservatively most of the way.
"I'll be thinking about my dad and hitting my marks on the track," Austin said before the race. "My goal is to just finish and get some experience."
Austin will run a few more races this season, but he could be in a car full time next season. Brian Pack raced 18 years at the stadium and now his son has started his racing career.
"This is something with the third generation that I've been looking forward to," Gene said. "I told him he's not here to impress nobody; I told him to impress himself. That's all that matters."
Austin was also smiles afterward. "It was fun, I had a blast," he said. "I guess my first wreck was all in the family, so I guess that's gotta be good."