Austin Horton came into the 2017 racing season with relatively little experience driving Super Late Models. However, the 22-year-old racer from Newnan, Georgia emerged from the campaign with a total of four victories in that class and as the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series champion. Now, he hopes to build upon that success.
“We started out pretty good,” Horton declared in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “We started out with Capital cars, I’m real good friends with Shane Clanton and we’re still good friends with him. He taught me a lot, but we already had previously run Rocket cars and we still owned one. We had an XR1 and kind of got back into it and started running it.”
And while his efforts on the Southern All Stars tour did not produce any victories, Horton was able to maintain the consistency needed to earn a championship. Further, the team and driver learned a great deal about what it takes to make a Super Late Model go faster. He hopes the knowledge gained last season will bring about an even more successful 2018.
“We just learned a lot throughout the year working with Gary Winger on my shock program,” Horton explained. “We just progressed through the year and tried to stay consistent. We didn’t get any wins on that deal, but we were consistent. We were biting at the bit to get a win. We’re really looking forward to starting off strong this year because our notebook has got a lot more knowledge in it now than what it used to. We’ve got everything tuned up a lot better this year.”
Horton went into the Southern All Stars campaign of 2017 with modest goals but he and his team exceeded even their own expectations.
“Last season was only my third year of running a Super Late Model,” Horton pointed out. “I actually started off in a Hobby car so we’re still a little green at it. Our goal was to win the Rookie of the Year and everything just played out right and we ended up winning both(RoY & series title). We couldn’t really ask for much better than that.”
Although he did not score a win in SAS competition, Horton did manage four Super Late Model triumphs in other races. He also took the checkered flag in four Limited Late Model features during 2017, including a $4,000-to-win affair at Georgia’s Cochran Speedway.
After experiencing that success, Horton and his team feel good about the future. The No. 16 Rocket Chassis with power provided by Clements Racing Engines and Vic Hill Racing Engines sits ready for action.
“Our confidence level is good,” the driver insisted. “I think the whole team is more confident now because we learned so much last year as far as preparation of the car, tires, and what all needs to be in the truck and that kind of stuff. Our team got to gel a lot better. I’m real excited going into 2018. We’ve got the equipment to win every race we go to so it’s just a matter of luck falling our way and putting everything together.”
Not being a full-time racer can take its toll on the driver himself as well as those closest to him. However, Horton feels as if he draws strength from those who matter most in his life.
“This is a job outside of my other job,” Horton said of the hours required to be successful in racing. “I work a full-time job. I don’t really get to spend a lot of time at home. I spend a lot of time away from my family and they really go through the wringer on it. But I’ve got a good family and a great girlfriend behind me and they allow me to put in all these hours. It just takes work. Hard work is what wins you races.”
As far as his plans for the upcoming season, Horton is just going to let the pieces fall where they may. He hopes to race on multiple tracks and under the sanction of several series throughout the year.
“We’re just going to bounce around,” he said. “We’ll still run a good many of the Southern All Stars stuff and we’ll run some of the Ray Cook(Spring & Southern Nationals) stuff and there’s some of the Ultimate shows I’d like to run. It’ll be hit and miss. We’re going to have us a crate motor. We’ll have one crate car and two super cars. We just want to hit more shows and get more experience and try to pick up some wins.”
So what are Horton’s goals going into the 2018 season and beyond?
“I just hope to have a real strong year and run up front a lot. I hope I get to add to the win column and boost my reputation against everybody. I want to be one of them guys like Brandon Overton and Mike Marlar that when you pull in the gate everybody is worried. I want everybody to think that I’m a guy who’s hard to beat. We’re just going to race as hard as we can this year and try to produce the best results that we can.”