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Austin geared for big finish

Mike Austin is right where he wants to be.

Well, almost.

The 42-year-old alcohol drag racer is returning to Jackson County, hoping his homecoming this weekend at a big event culminates with celebration.

Austin is tied for first in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Division 6 Top Alcohol Dragster series. With a berth into the finals at the Northwest Championship event in White City on Sunday, he'll capture the series crown and secure his fourth overall victory of the season.

Getting the chance to do it all in front of a home crowd at Champion Raceway sounds sensational, Austin said.

"It's a very special place to me," Austin said. "I am looking forward to coming home."

Austin, the 2005 NHRA Pacific Division top-alcohol driver of the year, is in good shape heading into the competition. He and Shawn Cowie both have 362 points, but Austin owns the tiebreaker. If he makes it into the last round, Austin will come out on top.

Division racing ends after the event, while national races will continue into November.

To Austin, this weekend's race is also another opportunity to take home an elusive alcohol dragster win at the local venue.

Austin finished ninth in the racing category last year. He didn't get the chance to race in Medford in 2009 because of an engine explosion.

"I've been to the final round and the semifinals," Austin noted.

Austin owns a No. 9 national ranking in the National Hot Rod Association Lucas Oil Series top-alcohol class. He has won three races this year, including two of the last three he's competed in. His Division 6 victories came in Spokane and Seattle, with a runner-up effort in Mission, British Columbia. He also earned a Pacific Division victory in Nevada.

Most recently, Austin and his team, Impatience Racing, were in Portland working on and freshening up their car. Austin said Impatience Racing owners Steve and Patty Federlin have empowered him.

"I tend to go to races to qualify with my own car," Austin said. "This team is a threat to win every time they come to a race."

The top prize this weekend is $8,500.

The event is one of six in the Northwest Championship, where drivers across the country earns points that lead to divisional and national championships.

Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday, with time trials beginning at 9 a.m. Three rounds of qualifying for top alcohol dragsters and top alcohol funny cars on Saturday begin at 1 p.m. Elimination rounds start at 10 a.m. Sunday.

The first round of top alcohol dragster and top alcohol funny car races begin at 1 p.m.

Tickets are $20 each day, which includes a pit pass. Children age 10 and under are free.

For more information, visit sportsman.nhra.com and championraceway.com.

Champion Raceway is located at the Jackson County All Sports Park, at 6900 Kershaw Road, about 15 minutes from downtown Medford.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail djones@mailtribune.com