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Season of highs culminates in top honor for Austin

There's the beautiful gold trophy that sits next to his television, and the embroidered leather jacket he wears when the moment is fitting.

He's got plaques, cards and T-shirts celebrating the places he's been and the things he's achieved.

But to Mike Austin, a local NHRA drag racer, the accolades are secondary to the satisfaction — and the gratitude — he's felt while working with Impatience Racing owners Steve and Patty Federlin.

After a breakthrough season, the 42-year-old Medford resident hopes he can perpetuate that relationship and continue to build upon a once-wobbling career that's now become immersed in positive possibilities.

"I don't have anything set in stone yet, but hopefully I will be driving Steve and Patty's car this year," Austin said. "And to be honest, we need to make a run at that national championship. It is right there. We spent most of the year getting to know each other, we made a lot of advancements."

Capping a 2010 season robust with highlights, Austin was named the 2010 Northwest Division Top Alcohol driver of the year at Tulalip Resort and Casino in Washington on Jan. 8.

The award was voted on by drivers and fans.

Austin secured first place in the NHRA Division 6 points race, finishing with 404 Sportsman Series Points in eight events last year. The 85 points he clinched in a desperation appearance in New Jersey sealed the dramatic victory.

Austin finished in fifth place in the Top 50 national points standings.

Aside from a disastrous showing in White City, the 1986 Phoenix High graduate and his team were nearly flawless in 2010, coming up one round shy of a perfect season. He snapped a five-year personal winless streak in the process.

Needing just one victory at NHRA Drag Racing Northwest Championship to clinch the regional points standings crown, Austin found himself battling a barrage of mechanical issues and bad luck at Champion Raceway in September.

Austin's dragster sustained engine damage right off the bat, pistons burnt out and a supercharger seized up during his first run. The vehicle's tires shook and its parachute released unexpectedly during the aggravating ordeal.

Austin failed to capture the elusive local win and came up short at the venue where he once raced Volkswagens nearly 20 years earlier.

"I look back at everything that we did before we got to Medford," Austin said. "I really felt we put our best foot forward. I have never been so excited to come here, but maybe there was too much emphasis put on it."

With one last chance to claim the points title, Austin and the team hastily packed up and traveled East.

That's where Impatience Racing's luck turned around.

Austin won the next nine rounds he competed in and logged three consecutive career-best runs. In Atco, N.J., the site of the final divisional competition, he qualified second and ultimately roared to victory.

"We had to win that race to win the championship," Austin said with a laugh. "No pressure."

During his hot stretch, Austin also picked up the first national win of his career in Reading, Pa.

"I can't say enough about Steve and Patty Federlin and the whole team," Austin said. "We were able to correct things we did wrong here, and when we showed up back East, we were just incredibly hard to beat."

The route to recognition for Austin was sinuous, stressful and, ultimately, satisfying. In uncertain times, the veteran racer is certain of this much: He hopes to experience the ride all over again.

"At the end of the year, we were hitting on all cylinders and I think we can make a run at that championship," he said.

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