Most people take time to wish others a Happy New Year on the first day of January, and it goes without saying that Austin Peters of Kingsport has a smile on his face entering the new year. The 24-year-old received good news last week that he’ll have a new ride in 2016 competing at Kingsport Speedway in the headlining NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car division.
Peters will drive for J&J Racing when the new season kicks off in March at “The Concrete Jungle.” He will chauffeur the No. 7 Ford Fusion owned by father and son, Jeff and Jason Herron and backed by longtime motorsports supporter Ken Daffron, who owns Dalton Direct Carpets located in the Bloomingdale community (just a short distance from the track), along with East Tennessee Dental Restorations in Kingsport, and Ford Racing.
“Besides myself, there were three or four other (drivers) being considered to drive for J&J Racing in 2016,” Peters said about the decision to put him behind the wheel. “When I found out that I was getting the ride, you just don’t know how much it meant to me because from each of us hopeful on getting the opportunity to drive for J&J Racing, I had the least amount of seat-time.
“I’m just really appreciative of Jeff and Jason Herron, and also Ken Daffron, for them having enough confidence in my abilities to drive their race car. They’ve got really good equipment, top-notch stuff. I’m going to do my very best to prove to them that they made a good decision in putting me behind the wheel. The No. 7 Ford Fusion is a proven race-winning car at Kingsport Speedway, and I just hope to continue the team’s tradition by running up front and contending for race wins.”
With Austin’s father, Royce Peters, a seasoned veteran racer with around 25 years of experience to his credit, it was basically a given that the younger Peters would one day want to race for the family-owned RPM Racing as a teammate with his father.
Austin began racing go-karts when he was just 9 years old, before eventually climbing the ladder to start racing an Allison Legacy Series car at age 13 during the 2005 season at 411 Motor Speedway, located just outside of Knoxville in Seymour. The results were impressive, as he garnered Rookie-of-the-Year honors and finished runner-up in Allison Legacy Series points.
Peters began racing full-size stock cars in the Charger division during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va., and competed in the Limited Sportsman class in 2011 at Kingsport Speedway. He finished third in Limited Sportsman points, and highlighting the season was his first-ever feature win on June 10.
Moving up to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car division in 2012 at the .375-mile banked concrete oval in the Model City, and for the first time racing in the same class with his father, Austin quickly turned heads and caught the attention of many in the pits with how smooth he was behind the wheel.
With the racing season reaching the halfway mark, both Austin and Royce were ranked top-10 in the point standings. That’s when the team made the decision to really focus on trying to help Austin win both the track and also Tennessee NASCAR Whelen All-American Series rookie titles.
Austin wrapped up the track’s rookie honors by finishing a strong sixth in the Late Model Stock Car point standings, and icing on the cake was also earning the state NASCAR Rookie-of-the-Year championship. He was the only car competing to be running when the checkered flag waved in every race in 2012.
For his accomplishments, Austin and the RPM Racing team received invitations to attend the prestigious NASCAR Whelen All-American Series awards banquet at the Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N. C., where he was recognized along with other track and state/province drivers from across the United States and Canada for their Rookie-of-the-Year championships.
“Oh yeah, to this point in my racing career, for all of us from our family-owned RPM Racing team getting to attend the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banquet in Charlotte, that’s the coolest thing ever,” Peters said. “I wouldn’t be racing if not for my dad and mom (Debbie Peters), and to see the smiles on their faces when we were in Charlotte, that’s what it’s all about. And everybody else on the team, it was just an awesome experience us all being together. Because it was truly a team effort in us winning the Tennessee state rookie championship.
“Max Hamilton helped my dad with his racing from the time he first started out, and sadly Max passed away a couple of years ago. But one thing he said that I’ll never forget when we were over in Charlotte at the Hall of Fame was, he told dad that he never imagined that one day he’d be part of a banquet at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Max said it was the greatest feeling in the world being at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he felt like he had finally climbed to the top of the mountain in racing. So, besides what it meant to me in winning the Kingsport Speedway and then the Tennessee state NASCAR rookie titles, what it meant for our whole group associated with RPM Racing is something I’ll never forget.”
Austin has continued driving for RPM Racing over the past three seasons and there have been some strong runs that resulted in top 10 finishes and a career-best third place effort, but the team has also experienced disappointment with tough nights at the track.
“It seems like since the really good rookie year we had in 2012 that we’ve had more than our share of bad luck with our racing program,” Peters said while shaking his head. “I mean, we’d be having a good run going and either get caught up in a wreck not of our own doing, or we’d have engine or other mechanical issues. Hey, it’s all a part of racing, I guess. But nonetheless it does get kind of disheartening to not be able to actually finish races.”
In landing the ride with J&J Racing for the upcoming racing season at Kingsport Speedway, Peters is excited with the opportunity – mainly because he knows he’ll be driving a new (Hess Race Cars) racing chassis and also will have a Ford Racing crate engine under the hood.
“Fans sitting in the grandstands on Friday nights at Kingsport Speedway, they just don’t realize the disadvantage I’ve been facing,” Peters states. “The car I drove last season is a racing chassis that’s 15 years old, and the top teams I’m competing against all have newer race cars than mine. Plus, with the rules package the way it is, for teams like our (RPM Racing) that ran a Chevrolet built engine, we just couldn’t run with the Fords that had the crate engines under the hood. In getting the J&J Racing ride, I know that I can be competitive because for one, they’ve got a new race car and two, we’re going to have a brand-new Ford Racing crate engine. Factor in a new race car and a new engine, that’s an awesome combination.
“We’re currently working on the race car back in the shop to get it ready so we can do some preseason testing here pretty soon. I want to get some seat-time driving the car before the season begins in mid-March. Sure, I’m going to have some pressure on me to perform because the car is capable of winning races. Can I win races? I believe I can. But really, what you’ve got to do is just be ‘on your game’ each race night and first, qualify well, and from qualifying the invert for the feature is determined. You’ve really got to qualify inside the top five, and then it’s all luck with the roll of the inversion dice as to where you’ll start. But long as you’re qualifying inside the top five, you’re going to be starting somewhere in one of the first three rows. Then once the green flag waves, you’ve just got to get up on the wheel and get the job done.”
Peters is very thankful for the direction his racing career is taking in 2016 with the new team.
“I just can’t thank J&J Racing owners Jeff and Jason Herron enough, along with Ken Daffron who will sponsor us with his Dalton Direct Carpets,” Peters said. “I’ve also got Mark Williams who will serve as crew chief, and he’s very knowledgeable about working on and setting up these NASCAR Late Model Stock Cars. I’m very excited to work closely with Mark and, I guess you could kind of say ‘get in his head’ and learn from him.”
Kingsport Speedway PR