WEST ALLIS, Wis. – In 2014 in the Howie Lettow Classic at The Milwaukee Mile, Austin Nason had a mechanical failure late in the race while running in the top 10 and crashed hard into the wall.
“Six laps to go we were running like 10th or something, going into three, the right front up and broke and just destroyed a brand new car; from front to back the thing was just destroyed,” Nason said.
At that time Nason, who was 18, was just learning how to race a late model. He said over the last few years, he and his crew have grown as they’ve fought through hardships and challenges.
“We’ve been working our stuff here I’d say the last two years here,” Nason said. “We struggled when we first came to super lates. We were just all over the board. I was a young driver.
“You’ve got Ty (Majeski) coming in here and he’s just a natural. It’s taken me a little bit. I don’t know if it was me, the cars or whatever, but we’ve really figured our stuff out. We know what to do, when to do it. We can go to race tracks and be fast. We can go somewhere and we can win.”
Nason’s breakthrough victory was an emotional one – the 2018 Joe Shear Classic at Madison Int’l Speedway in Oregon, Wis. It capped what was a tough learning curve. There was also doubt with how much longer he was going to stick around in a super late model.
“That was just a confidence boost for the whole team,” said Nason, who was the 2015 ARCA Midwest Tour Rookie of the Year.
On Sunday in the Father’s Day 100 at The Milwaukee Mile with the ARCA Midwest Tour, Nason, now 23, showed any doubt of his ability was wiped clear by winning the 100-lap feature. Nason has asserted himself as a contender, and he held off a driver in Majeski, who recently two consecutive ARCA Menards Series races, and is one of the top late model drivers in the country.
“It’s not like we just gambled and got lucky,” Nason said. “We outraced everyone. Sometimes we get lucky but today it was our race to win.
“I don’t think I’m leaving this seat anytime soon.”
Slightly lost in the pomp and circumstance of racing’s return to the 116-year-old Milwaukee Mile after a five-year hiatus was a points championship that is out to an intriguing start.
Going into Sunday’s race, Casey Johnson led Nason by 10 points in the championship through two events. Rich Bickle Jr. was third, 13 points behind Nason and Paul Shafer Jr. was fourth, four points behind Bickle.
As of Monday morning, the points standings hadn’t been updated on the tour’s website.
Throughout the weekend, Nason was quick, sitting in the top five in three of the five practice sessions leading into the main event. He was fifth-quickest in qualifying out of 36 cars.
Johnson finished sixth on Sunday, while Bickle fell off the pace late and finished 20th and Shafer finished 14th. Johnson also has a victory this season, winning at Jefferson (Wis.) Speedway over Memorial Day weekend. Nason finished second.
“I feel like we had the car to win there,” Nason said. “We just got hung up in traffic there a little bit. We ran him down in the last restart; we were to his bumper, but I didn’t want to race him than I think most people would race him on the last lap.
“We’ve just got to keep winning.”
The series returns to action June 29 at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway for the All-Star 100. Nason is the defending race winner.
“The car has been good there,” Nason said. “We’re going to go back with the same car and just keep digging at this championship.”
As for the grand return of racing to The Milwaukee Mile, it appears the event was a success.
It was the first competitive laps turned at the oval since 2015 when Sebastian Bourdais won an NTT IndyCar Series race. A stock car hadn’t raced at the Mile since the 2014 Howie Lettow Classic, which was won by Erik Jones, who is now in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Event promoter Bob Sargent said after Sunday’s race he was pleased with the outcome of the fan turnout as well as the competition on the track. He estimated about 6,200 fans attended the race, even braving cool temps and a bit of early-morning rain.
He said the ARCA Midwest Tour and the event itself will return in 2020 as interest has grown with other sanctioning bodies. The uncertainty is a date.
Sargent said the preference is to keep the event on Father’s Day weekend. However, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be at Chicagoland Speedway that same weekend.
Gregg McKarns, president of the ARCA Midwest Tour, said he, Sargent and others worked on this event for more than three years to get it to come together. The mix of the racing lineup, which included vintage stock cars, vintage Indy cars, the Mid-American Stock Car Series and the Midwest Truck Series, was good McKarns said.
Sargent liked that 13 states were represented in the ARCA Midwest Tour entry list. He saw that as encouraging going forward.
“We have a good foundation,” he said.