As 2010 Season Draws To Close, Austin Hubbard Reflects On His Run To The Rookie of the Year Award
By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director
CONCORD, NC – Nov. 1, 2010 – Austin Hubbard would love to close his unprecedented rookie season on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series with a triumph during the Nov. 4-6 Lowes Foods World of Outlaws World Finals Presented by Bimbo Bakeries and Tom’s Snacks at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
With a sold-out crowd packing the track’s massive grandstand – and, for the grand finale program on Sat., Nov. 6, even more fans watching the live television broadcast on SPEED – the teenage sensation from Seaford, Del., knows he would have a huge stage for one of the unbridled post-race victory celebrations that have become his trademark.
“I just want to win the race first,” said Hubbard, who has already clinched the 2010 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year award. “But if we can pull it off (at Charlotte), I’m sure there will be a lot of celebrating. I don’t know what I’d do, but it would be fun.”
Hubbard, of course, had a lot of fun earlier this year after his first career WoO LMS A-Main win, on March 20 at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga. Overjoyed after authoring his breakthrough performance in just the fourth event of the national tour’s 2010 schedule, he let loose with a Victory Lane display unlike anything ever seen in series history. Hubbard climbed out of his car, removed his fireproof uniform, long-sleeve shirt and shoes and – harkening Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character in Talladega Nights – ran down the homestretch wearing only his long underwear, helmet and socks.
Screven’s fans roared as Hubbard rolled in the mud and high-fived them through the catch fence. He was an instant hit – and a new star arrived. Just one month after turning 18, Hubbard fulfilled the promise that had made him the unlikely successor to former WoO LMS champion Steve Francis behind the wheel of Maryland team owner Dale Beitler’s high-profile Reliable Painting No. 19 machines.
Coming off a 2009 campaign that saw him turn heads – perhaps none more than Beitler’s – with three top-five and eight top-10 finishes driving his father Mike’s equipment while entering selected WoO LMS events, Hubbard certainly was confident that he could run up front with a established, proven team like Beitler’s. He even said “it would be a disappointment” if he was unable to win an Outlaw A-Main in 2010.
But did Hubbard ever think that milestone checkered flag would come in Race No. 4 after he passed Francis for the lead? Not a chance.
“I definitely was shocked it came that quick,” Hubbard said of his victory at Screven. “I figured my best shot at a win would be in the beginning or the end of the year, because the weather (in the spring and fall) makes the tracks heavier which is more to my liking. But I sure didn’t think it would be the fourth race in.”
The triumph came amidst an especially strong start for Hubbard, who also had four third-place finishes (at Ocala, Fla.; Battleground Speedway in Highlands, Texas; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Swainsboro, Ga.) under his belt by the 10th race of the season. He found himself fourth in the points standings and appeared to be adapting to the hyper-competitive tour like a seasoned veteran, but the trials and tribulations all rookies experience were soon to come.
“It seemed a little weird,” said Hubbard, who has enjoyed solid crew support all season from Beitler’s pair of fulltime mechanics, well-known crew chief Robby Allen and up-and-coming Pennsylvania dirt Late Model driver Coleby Frye. “We were in the top-three a bunch of times for more than a month and everything was rolling. But it was almost like the expectations were met and everybody was on this high about it, and then we struggled and had a lot of troubles through the middle of the year.”
Indeed, Hubbard took his share of hard knocks – a heat-race DQ at the scales and a hard qualifying crash during the Memorial Day weekend doubleheader at West Virginia Motor Speedway; a broken rearend while running fourth with just two laps remaining at New York’s Can-Am Motorsports Park; driveshaft failures in both the heat and A-Main at Ohio’s Sharon Speedway; a broken wheel that put him into the wall while running second just past the halfway point in the 100-lap USA Nationals at Wisconsin’s Cedar Lake Speedway.
While Hubbard registered a second A-Main victory in a rain-shortened event on July 9 at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D. – making him the first driver in WoO LMS history to win twice in their rookie season – he slumped during his initial foray through the grueling dog days of summer with the Outlaws. He went without a top-five finish in the nine races contested in August before finally snapping the frustrating streak with his sixth third-place run of 2010, on Sept. 1 in the ‘Battle At Eastern Door 100’ at New York’s Mohawk International Raceway.
Hubbard took the struggles in stride, realizing that his rookie season wasn’t going to be a joy ride from start-to-finish. He still enters the Lowes Foods World Finals with 11 top-five finishes (sixth best on the tour) and 23 top-10 runs (seventh best) while starting all 42 A-Mains and appears headed to a seventh-place finish in the points standings – the highest ranking ever for a rookie on the WoO LMS. With the tour’s Rookie of the Year award determined using candidates’ best 30 finishes, Hubbard easily clinched the $10,000 prize over Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who has entered 35 events and started 20 A-Mains with a top finish of 14th to her credit.
“I’ll take the year we’ve had and try to figure out what we need to do next year to get better and win more races,” said Hubbard, the first driver from the state of Delaware to win a WoO LMS A-Main. “Rookie of the Year was the obvious goal from the start and we’ve accomplished that and we’ve got two wins right now, so I can’t complain. I wish we would’ve run better toward the end of the year, but we’ve had a pretty good year.
“I definitely expected to struggle where we have been struggling,” he continued, analyzing his performance. “Drier tracks are hard for me; I’m still learning about driving straight, but it’s definitely gotten better. Getting to watch these (WoO LMS) guys and how they handle certain situations has definitely helped me all year, and because of that we’ve had some good runs in conditions that aren’t apt to the way I drive so I’m pretty happy with that.
“Everything is slowly getting better, but it just takes time. You see it in every division – (three-decade veterans) Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell are still winning Sprint Car races, Scott (Bloomquist) and Billy (Moyer) are still dominating (in dirt Late Models). Experience definitely does pay off in this sport, but I don’t use that as an excuse. I think we just have to get better and I have to drive better.
“Pretty much every night out this year I’ve had the feeling I should’ve done something different,” he added with a laugh. “There’s races where it cost us more than others, but that’s the only way you learn. You have to do it. Hopefully I can capitalize on the things I’ve learned and not make the same mistakes in the future.”
Hubbard will attempt to end his season on a high note this weekend at The Dirt Track, a high-banked, four-tenths-mile oval that’s been tough on him. He’s entered all three previous World Finals but has yet to qualify for an A-Main; his three career feature-event starts at The Dirt Track show finishes of 18th (last month’s World of Outlaws Late Model Showdown), 19th (2009 Colossal 100) and 25th (2009 Showdown).
“I like the place and I like the speed of it,” said Hubbard. “I always love to drive on it, but I don’t know if I always love to race on it. You’re not always sure what you’re gonna get and we’ve always struggled there trying to figure it out.”
Count on Hubbard solving The Dirt Track’s secrets sooner rather than later. The precocious talent is focused on improvement – this weekend and, especially, next year, though he understands his sophomore season on the WoO LMS just might be a bigger challenge than his first.
“I don’t know if it’ll be any easier,” said Hubbard, looking ahead to 2011. “I’ll probably just put more pressure on myself because I’ll want to work harder and do better. You can chalk a lot of stupid stuff (this year) up to rookie mistakes, but it won’t be like that anymore. Next year will be a whole new program and a whole new set of standards and goals, and probably they’ll be higher than they’ve ever been.”