The 2020 season was supposed to be the start of something new for Austin McCarl.
The Altoona, Iowa native had planned on broadening his horizons and taking a sprint car outside of Knoxville Raceways borders.
Friday (Hot laps @ 6:30 p.m. on DirtVision) however, McCarl will strap into his own No. 17A car. He’ll be racing for himself against some the best drivers in the world, in a race of historic proportions right in his back yard, at Knoxviile.
“It’s awesome,” McCarl said. “It’s awesome just to get to race. Honestly, I’m just fortunate to be in an area where sprint car racing is a pretty big deal – or just where we’re allowed to race. If I was in California or up in Pennsylvania, I’d want to be in Des Moines, Iowa where I’m at.”
Austin McCarl ready for Outlaws’ challenge after COVID postponed Plans
McCarl had just finished the 2019 Knoxville Championship Cup Season, his third and final campaign at the track with TKS Motorsports.
He finished third in the points standings as the defending series champion, but had ended his run with the team with three straight top 3 finishes in the standings.
After the season ended, the two groups mutually parted ways, as McCarl was hungry to go outside of Iowa.
“I just kind of wanted to go in a different direction,” McCarl said. “I wanted to travel more. He wants to stay kind of local and run Knoxville. I’ve been wanting to branch out a little bit and go to the east coast and the west coast more… just kind of doing some more traveling and not committing myself to be here at Knoxville every week. I was just looking for some other things to do to try and grow as a racecar driver.”
McCarl was set to explore the country with the help of former World of Outlaws crew chief Brandon Ikenberry and the No. 25 Deuce Motorsports car.
He had planned to run the 25 in the 410 class when he could while pulling double duty in Jimmy Davies’ No. 99 car in the 360 class.
He wasn’t going to commit to Knoxville for the entirety of the season, and he was going to look at running some All Star Circuit of Champions races in the 99 in an effort to race on bigger and different stages.
Now, it looks like Knoxville will provide the biggest stage – at least for this week.
“The COVID thing really threw a wrench in that,” McCarl said. “I want to get away and run more all-star shows and travel and stuff like that, but sometimes you just have to deal with expense. Knoxville (makes the most) sense.”
McCarl will be ready to go on Friday night in the 48-car, World of Outlaws Sprint Car series race at Knoxville.
The race, operating to Outlaws’ outsiders as invitation-only, will include the top 20 finishers from the 2019 Knoxville Cup season.
That meant McCarl would easily qualify for his spot, and he’s been wanting to take advantage since the day that sports stopped – on March 12.
“It’s looks like it’s going to be historic,” McCarl said. “When this whole thing happened and they shut the NBA down, I was sitting at a buddy’s house. I was like, ‘Man this is going to be in like history books someday. There’s going to be chapters in history books someday.’”
He will come into Friday at Knoxville with some recent racing already under his belt, too.
McCarl’s dad, Terry, put on a 32-car invite-only race at Park Jefferson Speedway in South Dakota at the end of April, which went on without a hitch.
“It was really awesome to be a part of Park Jefferson last week and I think it was really part of what got the ball rolling,” McCarl said. “I think it was really what got the ball rolling on other sanctioning bodies, mainly the Outlaws, to try and figure out a way to come back and race. We showed that it can be done and can be done in a healthy and safe way as well as an entertaining way.”
The event, held without fans, was admittedly different, for McCarl.
However, from a drivers perspective, everything on the infield is business as usual.
“Being in the pit area with the crew guys and the race cars wasn’t too abnormal,” McCarl said. “It was definitely weird looking into the stands. As far as the racing, (though), everything was back to normal.”
The event just solidified what some wondered about sporting events in the middle of a COVID crazed world.
Was there going to be enough people willing to risk being around each other to race?
The answer was absolutely.
“Racers just want to race, man,” McCarl said. “If you’re going to put on a race, no matter what’s going on, they’ll support it. It’s kind of like that old Field of Dreams thing, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
Friday’s race at Knoxville will be one that goes straight into the history books – no matter what happens.
It might be the biggest race and the biggest spotlight that has ever been on the track, and that’s nothing to take away from the Knoxville Nationals.
“I definitely feel like we were a part of history in being the first race back, doing this the way we can, and showing the country that we can race and still have normal lives in the (shadow) of the pandemic,” McCarl said.
But, for the local star and generational talent, it was going to be another big date with the Outlaws, right in his backyard.
“You’re going to Knoxville with the World of Outlaws… it’s going to be a big deal,” McCarl said.