116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — This time of the year, outcomes on the racetrack are determined by who can overcome the elements and beat the heat.
At Hawkeye Downs Speedway, no one’s conquered the elements recently quite like Kalona’s Austin Slabaugh. And perhaps no vehicle is hotter right now than Slabaugh’s No. 6 Legends car.
Slabaugh entered Friday’s Mid-Season Championship having won each of his last four races.
“Most of it’s just a little bit of luck I guess,” Slabaugh said. “I didn’t really have a good start to the season. I had to go toward the back there the first two races. Then things kind of turned around and started clicking for once, and I’ve been able to get good track position early on in the race which helps quite a bit.”
Slabaugh finished sixth in his first race of the season on May 13 and eighth on May 20. Since then, as temperatures have heated up, so has he — despite some less-than-ideal racing conditions.
During the final few laps of his first-place finish June 10, Slabaugh’s helmet visor fogged up due to the extreme heat inside his vehicle.
“I tried to kind of hold my breath a little bit and try to keep that down as much as I could,” Slabaugh said. “You just try to focus on where the track is. Luckily, it was maybe two or three laps to go. But it makes you focus that much harder to try and figure out what’s going on.
“It’s like driving your car when it’s foggy out.”
Slabaugh began racing in the Legends Division at Hawkeye Downs in 2015. He was the season points champion in 2017 and 2021.
He believes his experience gives him an edge this time of year with variables brought on by the heat.
“It seems like we’ve had quite a few races this year where we’ve had quite a bit of moisture on the track,” Slabaugh said. “The past couple years, it seems like there’s always a couple races where there’s moisture on the track. So, I’m kind of used to that and know what it’s going to be like coming into the week compared to some of the other drivers.”
Inside the vehicle, Slabuagh said that it’s typically 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. Also consider that drivers are wearing “firesuits” during the race, adding another layer of warmth.
“We’re wearing pretty thick firesuits, so it’s definitely going to be warmer than normal,” Slabaugh said. “As far as the heat zone for this year, I haven’t seemed to be affected by it too much.”
Slabaugh finished second in Friday’s Mid-Season Championships, crossing the checkered flag right behind points leader Jacob Tiegen of Cedar Rapids.
Tiegen holds a narrow points lead over Slabaugh.
While it should be a hotly-contested battle for the Legends division points leader in the second half, Slabaugh said that the two maintain a good friendship.
“Yeah, we’ve been pretty good friends this whole time,” Slabaugh said. “This winter, we both went down to Florida to race (Winter Nationals) for about a week. We pitted beside them. And talked a lot back and forth. We get along pretty good.
“Last year when I won they (the Tiegens) were pretty supportive of me winning. Obviously, I’d like to win this year, but I’d be pretty happy for them if they were able to do it this year. I wouldn’t have any hard feelings.”