The racing dream for late model drivers Austin McDaniel and Connor Mosack both started at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now, both drivers will be competing just an hour up the road at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Hickory Motor Speedway, a .363-mile semi-banked oval asphalt track located in Hickory, North Carolina, has become a jumping off point for many young late model drivers in the south. McDaniel started racing limited late models there in 2010 when he was just 16 years old.
Now, nine years later, the 24-year-old feels like a veteran.
“Age-wise, I’m probably at the top of the age group now,” McDaniel said. “As I’ve raced over the years there’s been more and more kids, and more and more younger kids, at that, that have kind of started racing at Hickory.I’m probably one of the older ones there, and one of the most experienced, but the kids, by the time they move up to late models they’ve been racing in general for so many years they’re pretty tough coming right out of the gate.”
Hickory Motor Speedway will open the 2019 season on Saturday with Twin 40 lap late model races, limited late models, street stock, super trucks and renegades.
McDaniel grew up in Charlotte, where he said it was impossible to not fall in love with racing. It’s become a lifelong love too. He studied mechanical engineering at UNC Charlotte, and works full time at GMS Racing.
“Just growing up in the area that I did, I lived two or three miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, so just being around the area definitely helps, and you grow up with it so much around you you just kind of grow into it,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunities with being so close to so many race teams and shops. It just kind of caught my attention early and I’ve been hooked ever since and had the bug.”
The bug caught Mosack at a later age, but Charlotte had a lot to do with it for him too. Mosack did a Mario Andretti racing experience at CMS for his 16th birthday, and fell in love with the sport instantly.
Now 19, he will be one of those younger drivers on the track at Hickory this year. He drove legends cars the last two years, but will run a full season at Hickory this year in a late model for the first time.
“I’ve been doing it since and started having a little bit of success last year and and wanted to take it on to the next level,” he said.
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Being so close to Charlotte, Hickory provides a good spot for McDaniel, Mosack and other young up-and-comers to live out their racing dreams less than 60 miles from the city. McDaniel will only run a partial schedule there, while also traveling to other tracks like Myrtle Beach, Tri-County and South Boston. But to him, Hickory will always be home.
“For the most part the competition is really good, especially at some of the bigger races that Hickory has. We really like Hickory,” McDaniel said.
“I’ve got to race with a lot of different people in a lot of different age groups and experience levels. Over the years the guys who have moved up to the higher ranks of racing, just getting to race against all sorts of experience levels, different car counts, I have grown over the years as a driver in myself. The competition has not gotten any easier the more I’ve gotten experience. There’s still a big challenge, cars are getting better, crews are getting better, the kids are learning as they go on. So even though I feel like we have an upper hand having a lot more experience at Hickory, the competition is still just as tough.”
Those experiences will be new for Mosack this year.
So far, he’s only tested at Hickory a couple of times, and he’s still getting used to the bigger and more powerful car and learning how to conserve tires.
He’s used to learning curves though. He attributes his age to helping him learn how to deal with issues better.
“The first year that I raced it wasn’t on the best team. I didn’t have the best equipment so I had to deal with a lot of the car not being how I like it, so dealing with that the first year and getting used to how to drive it when the car is not good,” Mosack said. “And then this past year I got with (team owner) Dennis Lambert, he’s the best there is in legend cars, so making that transition I was able to use his coaching and learn from bad cars and do well in the good cars. And me being a little bit older than other kids helped me have a faster learning curve because I was able to understand things faster.”
This season, Mosack is just focused on getting better as the season goes on. Starting with just completing all the laps early on, getting experience, and working his way towards the front.
“Then hopefully by the middle of the summer we should be upfront most of the time and hopefully get a couple of wins,” he said. “I think if I can do well there it will pay off at other places and help me out the most.”
Racing is just a hobby for McDaniel, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also working to get to Victory Lane this season.
“Having such a good time at it is what’s kept me around. Just really enjoying it, getting to work and go to the track with my family. We’re a family owned team, we own all our own stuff, and besides a couple of guys who help with us it’s all our family helping us,” he said. “The biggest thing this year is to just be competitive every week and being upfront in the top 3. Because once you’re in the top 3 anything can happen, and hopefully end up in victory lane a couple of times this year.”