When 12-year-old Austin McDaniel’s grandparents gave him a quarter-midget car for Christmas, a championship was merely a dream. Since then, the Harrisburg resident has shown the gift was a good investment.
In 2013, McDaniel, 19, secured his second consecutive late model track championship at Hickory Motor Speedway with a car his family found on the website racingjunk.com. The car had been raced at Orange County Speedway near Rougemont.
McDaniel has found success since his first year racing late models in 2011.
“We finished second in the points,” he said. “We had a disqualification for an intake manifold we weren’t sure about. It was on the car when we bought it, but they found it one night and we got disqualified. That took us out of the points run in 2011.”
The Christmas gift that began McDaniel’s racing career resulted in a three-year stint in quarter-midgets. He then moved to the Legends Young Lions for 1 1/2 years, where his best finish was third in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout and Winter Heat series. During that time he also placed in the top 15 in the Legends national competition at Lanier Speedway in Georgia.
He transitioned to a limited late model for a year at Hickory Motor Speedway, earning seven victories and rookie honors. That same year, he captured a 100-lap race victory in Myrtle Beach. In 2011, McDaniel advanced to the Hickory track’s late model division, once again earning rookie honors at the historic speedway. He also was named the top late model rookie in North Carolina.
“The Legend cars taught me really good car control,” McDaniel said. “Legend cars are really big on horsepower-to-weight ratio. They have a lot of horsepower and the cars don’t weigh very much so they’re definitely a handful. I think that transferred really good into the late models because the late models are so heavy.”
McDaniel, who’s seeking a mechanical engineering degree at UNC Charlotte, would eventually like to work on a NASCAR team. For now, he’ll continue to race his late model.
“We’re definitely going to run the 10-race Zloop Challenge series at Hickory and then we’d like to travel around to some different tracks in the Southeast, like Southern National in Kenly, N.C., South Boston in Virginia and maybe Greenville-Pickens in South Carolina,” McDaniel, the current Zloop Challenge champion, said about his 2014 season. “In November we’ll definitely go back to Myrtle Beach. We’d like to race a couple of events there during the season to get some more experience.”
McDaniel, who works in the Express Service Department at Honda of Concord, said it hasn’t been decided if the team would head to Martinsville, Va., in the fall for that track’s major late model race.
“It’s really expensive and there are a lot of crashes and a lot of cars,” McDaniel said about the event. “Is it worth it? We’re not a 100 percent sure yet, but as the season goes on we’ll probably talk about it more.”
McDaniel’s team is a family operation comprised of his grandparents, parents and sister Madison. His late model is kept at Performancenter Racing Warehouse in Statesville where crew chief Jonathan Morrison works or at Hendrick Honda Hickory where his father is employed.
NCQMA schedules special event
An open house at the North Carolina Quarter-Midget Association track in Salisbury, will be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 8. Children and teenagers ages 5-16 may drive a quarter-midget car for 10 laps for $15. The quarter-midget and all safety equipment will be provided. A participant’s parent or legal guardian must be present.
For information, go to www.ncqma.com.