Medford's Austin getting back in the driver's seat

After surviving a horrifying crash that made national headlines, local NHRA driver Mike Austin is back in the driver's seat.

Austin, a 43-year-old Medford resident who races top-alcohol dragsters, will compete this weekend and next weekend for YNot Racing in Las Vegas just weeks after walking away from a devastating crash at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

On Feb. 11, Austin's ride skidded out of control, sailed over a retaining wall and slammed down violently during the first round of eliminations at Auto Club Raceway.

The dragster that he had invested tens of thousands of dollars in was "completely destroyed" and his motorsport future was up in the air.

"I can't say I ever thought I wouldn't race again," said Austin, adding that he is in "pretty good" shape other than some soreness in his tailbone. "I thought it would be a while though."

But earlier this month, Austin received a call from well-known YNot crew chief Norm Grimes, who asked him if he would like to race in Las Vegas. Before linking up with the YNot team in 2006, Grimes guided Rick Santos to five consecutive world championships, and his resume is full of other victories.

Jim Whiteley, who lined up and raced against Austin the day of the crash, is the owner and driver of YNot. The Grand Junction, Colo., resident has finished in the top five in the NHRA national standings for four straight years. Last season, he reached at least the semifinals in 15 of his 17 starts while building a 41-12 record with three national-event triumphs.

Austin said he is eager to put the past behind him and give his all for the renowned team.

"This is the kind of stuff I hope for," Austin said. "The bad stuff I don't like talking about."

"I have always wanted to race with this team," Austin said of YNot. "I have always wanted to put myself in the best cars and this is a great opportunity. This team has all the right people in place. Even though it is an experimental combination, and only for the two races, that is all we have for right now. And then after this, they will evaluate what we have done and where it has gone and whether or not it shows promise. I just want to do the best job I can and hopefully something good comes of this chance."

The team will race in the qualifying rounds of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Pacific Division event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday. Eliminations are on Sunday. They'll then race in the NHRA Nationals on March 31 at the same venue.

The dragster that Austin will race is a mid-2000s CNE that Whiteley used to drive. It uses a torque converter instead of a clutch.

"Ninety-nine percent of all top-alcohol dragsters have a clutch in them," Austin said. "They've been working on putting this car together to try and since I had the accident I didn't have anything to do, so they asked me if I would like to drive it."

Austin has his original crew with him.

"We all thought we were done racing for a while," Austin said. "And we are already back."

Coverage of the NHRA Nationals qualifying will air on ESPN2 at 4:30 p.m. on March 31. Eliminations will be shown at 4 p.m. on April 1 on ESPN2. Austin's appearance will likely be a focus of the telecast.

Austin is still in the process of removing each piece of his wrecked dragster from his trailer. He said the damage is "way worse than I ever imagined" and he'll "probably be able to salvage less than 25 percent of it."

"It's in 50 pieces," Austin said. "It's a very slow process because it's painful to look at."

Austin said he is grateful to be able to pour his energy into something other than picking up the pieces now.

"I've thought about it," he said. "I just am glad that this team is having me drive this soon. I feel like because it is this soon there won't be the effects if I had to wait a long time and get back into it. I just haven't had a lot of time to dwell on the accident. And I just feel this is the best way to get back on the horse and ride it."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email

Share This Story