BRISTOL, RI (WPRI) — Austin Mack’s grades weren’t great back in the day, so his dad put him behind the wheel of a go cart, and that’s where he’s earning straight A’s.
As his dad tells it, young Mr. Mack was a natural. When the 17-year-old isn’t cruising into curves at 140 miles per hour as a professional Formula 1600 race car driver, he’s moving a bit slower, going class to class past the purple lockers of Bristol’s Mount Hope High.
“Sometimes you look at the side of the road and you see everything going by in a blur, ” he said with a smile. “And you just think, crazy. Should I really be doing this? Is this a good life decision?”
He was just seven when that life decision started to rev up after his father was looking for something to build the confidence of his son — who he said was sometimes jolted by bad grades in school. After all, there was already grease in his veins, since Bill Mack is a well-known local mechanic, specializing in classic sports cars like the powder blue 1962 MGA we found him and Austin working on recently.
“If they gave me a math test out on the track, I’m sure I’d ace it,” Austin said. “I’m not a guy who likes to learn at a desk. I enjoy learning on the fly.”
We asked if that meant learning while flying around a track at 140 miles per hour.
“That’s the only way to do it,” Austin answered.
Austin, whose mom passed away when he was about four, is Bill’s only child. And although Bill raced cars when he was younger, he admits feeling some fear when he sees his kid racing around a track.
“I am afraid,” Bill said. “And it makes you a really big fan of buying really good safety equipment.”
Keep in mind, this is a teen who still gets picked up from school by his dad. He’s qualified to drive a formula race car, but not licensed to drive on the road.
While his trophies decorate his father’s home, Austin almost quit the sport about two years ago after finishing last.
“I did everything to make sure that I would never finish last again,” Austin said.
That meant spending hours watching video of his races, studying his braking and acceleration and taking the wheel in a video-game-on-steroids simulator that is part of the furniture at his dad’s home.
“I have to bring it back into the pits,” he said during one recent practice session. “I think I hit a wall.”
He grins a bit after the practice crash, but soon a serious glare reveals his focus.
“Racing is so much more than just turning a wheel and pressing pedals,” he said. “In the car, with all that adrenaline flowing through your veins, you kind of have to break everything down to feelings, sensations in your body, tension in your arms, tension in the wheel, sounds that the cars make.”
He understands how much work is left for him, but he has no doubt about what he hopes is waiting at the end of the track.
“I’d like to be in the Indy 500,” he said. “I don’t know about winning it, but I can see me in the race.”
So, his goal is to get a lot faster, and he doesn’t mind that his father is along for the ride as a backseat driver.