When a win streak ends, what’s the best remedy for the blahs?
If you’re Pat Austin, driver of the Castrol GTX Top Alcohol Funny Car, you just try to start a new streak.
That’s exactly what the 23-year-old Tacoma, Wash., resident will be attempting to do at the 24th annual NHRA Winston Finals, which started Thursday with the first of three days of qualifying leading up to today’s eliminations at the Los Angeles County Fairplex track in Pomona.
Austin strung together an amazing string of six consecutive national event victories--an NHRA record--from July 31 until last Sunday, when Brad Anderson pinned defeat on Austin. The decision ended Austin’s streak of round wins at 20.
The setback won’t prevent Austin from claiming the $15,000 Winston Championship bonus this season. He already secured his second straight title earlier in a remarkable campaign.
“Our car didn’t run well from our first qualifying session on,” said Austin, following his loss at the fourth annual Fallnationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. “It’s going to happen. It’s the way it goes, I guess, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.”
Austin, used to qualilfying among the top two or three, found himself in seventh position at Firebird with a 6.364-second, 221.23-mph effort, far short of the car’s potential.
“I can’t remember qualifying that low before,” he said. “That was our first first-round loss since the 1987 U.S. Nationals.”
Nevertheless, Team Austin, which includes his brother, Mike, as crew chief and father, Walt, as car owner, is completing a remarkable season. In 13 national events, Austin has won eight times, been to the finals three more times and exited once in the first round.
His victories match the one-year record set by Pro Stock champion Bob Glidden, the sport’s most-consistent and winningest driver.
During the two years Austin has reigned, he has won 14 races and totals 16 in his three-year career. Besides winning the eight races, he’s been victorious at the Winston All-Stars and TRW All-Stars events.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Brad Anderson, recognized as one of Alcohol Funny Car’s finest drivers, innovators and builders, “he’s a better driver than the car’s parts. He’s a good driver.”
Anderson and Austin are arch rivals, so the words of praise aren’t easily manufactured. By his estimation, Anderson and Austin have met “about 10 times this year, and the winner has usually been him.
“He’s beaten me with slower elapsed times and he’s run quicker,” Anderson said.
At Chandler, Anderson finished in 6.348 seconds at 220.80 mph while Austin trailed at 6.385, 216.08 mph.
Austin must wade through a 16-car field if he is to reach his record-setting ninth season win.