CEDAR RAPIDS — In 2015, Austin Slabaugh took his first laps in a racecar. Fresh out of Mid-Prairie High School, the former football player joined the ranks of racecar driver in the Legends division.
At the end of just his third year in a car, he wrapped up a season points championship in the largest, most competitive division at Hawkeye Downs Speedway — and he did it beating a guy who’s been racing there 25 years and has won championships in three other divisions in Dave McCalla.
Slabaugh didn’t win a race in 2017 — he got his first career feature win last season — but his fourth-place finish Friday night put a period on his best season behind the wheel.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to do this without winning a race, but somehow it worked out,” Slabaugh said. “I didn’t anticipate improving this quickly, not at all; not with this group of guys out here. This group is a really close field. I caught on, but I didn’t think it would be this quick.
“I was really consistent, so I’m happy with that.”
Slabaugh was understandably grinning ear to ear following the race Friday night and said he “didn’t get much done at work” all day that day, just thinking about what was at stake.
He compared it, mentally, to preparing for a big football game in that your stomach doesn’t really settle, and you run through scenarios in your head over and over. Once the race got rolling Friday and things settled in single file after a wild first few laps, Slabaugh said he didn’t want to push too hard.
That’s the nature of points racing, after all. Do what you’ve got to do to maximize points and bring it home in one piece. He settled in right ahead of McCalla, who entered the night four points back, needing to beat Slabaugh by five positions on the track to win the title.
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Slabaugh relaxed over the final few laps, though, knowing how McCalla would race him while Brady Fox-Rhode was on his way to a seventh race win up ahead of them.
“I could see Dave right behind me, so I was just out there driving, not wanting to make mistakes,” Slabaugh said. “I thought about this all day. A four-point lead can go out the window quickly.
“I really wanted to win this year, but I’ll take the championship, that’s for sure.”
McCalla, for his efforts, was happier Slabaugh won than if he had.
Even if that sounds outrageous — who roots for their competitor, right? — McCalla was insistent. The longtime racer has countless wins under his belt, and said at this point of his career, he’s past the stage of winning at all costs. Seeing a kid like Slabaugh win was important for the division as much for Slabaugh himself, McCalla said.
The “Highside Hustler,” as McCalla is affectionately known by his fans at Hawkeye Downs, compared Slabaugh to NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth for his consistency and demeanor on the track.
High praise from a former champion to a current one.
“I’ve helped him from the beginning and I wanted to see him win it,” McCalla said. “Matt Kenseth has always been one of my favorite drivers, and that’s how Austin is, he’s real consistent. It’s awesome to see him win.
“Give him another year or two and he’s going to be dominant in this position
As for the other divisions, Brian Gibson wrapped up a third straight Late Model season championship while finishing third in Friday’s main event. Jim Hanson won another Hobby Stock title whnile finishing second to Jeremy Floyd in the main event. Cory Houdek got his seventh win of the season and wrapped up a championship in Sportsmen.
In Hornets, Dallas Chandler looked on his way to a race win and track championship before being taken out coming to the checkers by Michael Coulbourn.
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Both cars ended up crashed in the grass off Turn 4 of the ¼-mile. While Coulbourn was getting out of his car, a member of Chandler’s crew ran from off the track and threw a punch at Coulbourn in the infield. The end result was Coulbourn being disqualified for the incident and Chandler for the fight, which eliminated him from the championship.
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