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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Teen Rettig making name at area tracks

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thirteen-year-old auto racer Austin Rettig
SIKESTON -- There are many things in life that 13-year-old Sikeston native Austin Rettig is not old enough to do.

He's too young to vote in an election.

He's not old enough to serve in our country's military.

He has yet to reach the legal age to drive.

At least not on the same streets as you and I.

But, despite his age, there is something Rettig has proven that he is old enough to handle. And that would be a seat behind the wheel of a genuine street stock race car.

"I enjoy the rush of adrenaline I feel every time I leave the garage," said Austin Rettig, who will be a seventh grade student at Kelly Middle School later this month. "The winning has been great because it feels like I have accomplished something."

In only his first full season of racing, Rettig has won seven feature events. Most of the drivers who have competed against him are two and three times his age.

He began tinkering with the idea of driving a stock car during 2006 season when his father, Allan Rettig, a man who has been involved in area auto racing for the last 30 years, decided to take his son out to the track for practice sessions.

"I knew that he had talent, but I didn't know how far he could go," Allan Rettig said. "Austin has picked this up very quickly. His learning curve has shot right up."

In fact, according to Allan, in 11 of Austin's last 13 races, the younger Rettig has placed either first or second.

At the Malden Speedway, Austin has made 12 starts this season, winning four features and finishing in the Top 10 six times. He held the lead in the Pure Street Division points standings through Thursday at Malden with a commanding 108-point advantage over second-place driver Aaron Darby, 531-423. At the Poplar Bluff Speedway, Austin sits in second place in the Pure Street Division points standings through July 25. He trailed leader Robert Williams by eight points, 867-859.

"Every track he goes to, he's getting noticed," said Allan, who has seen Austin also compete at the Auto Tire and Parts RacePark in Benton.

Austin has been influenced by the racing career of his father and his brother, Nathan, who was a driver for eight years before being tragically killed in an ATV accident. Austin said he enjoys watching current NASCAR drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick on Sundays during racing season.

"There is no age limit to drive at a race track. It's all based on whether or not you have the ability to compete, and Austin certainly has proven that he has what it takes. However, we needed to get the approval of our insurance company. I'm still not sure how that happened." Allan said as he chuckled.

Austin began his racing career not on any oval. His need for speed was first quenched on the drag strip in Sikeston. Allan said Austin had a natural progression from drag cars to oval-based race cars.

"I have been nervous, but never too nervous before the start of a race," Austin said. "Before each race, there is a moment when everyone at the track prays for the safety of the drivers. I think God is the reason why I've had my success, why I've stayed safe and why I have the ability to get behind the wheel of a race car."

Even at 13 years, Austin has already made plans for his future. He plans to go to college to study engineering and would like to be involved in NASCAR in some way.

Racing is a family event for the Rettigs. Allan, who himself has been racing for nearly three decades, supervises Austin's pit crew team. Mike Massey is the master mechanic who has helped fine-tune Austin's stock car while his mother, Karen, and grandfather, Harold Rettig, help out in the pits.

"I want to thank my mom, my dad, Mike Massey, my grandpa, God, Mark Busch and Ben Baker, who have made all of this to be possible for me," Austin said.

Phil Santie, co-owner of the Malden Speedway, has been amazed by what he has seen Austin do on the race track.

"I have to say that Austin is a racing prodigy. I think a lot of of people are going to keep their eyes on him. He's already a crowd favorite each time he wins. The fans just love him," Santie said.

"He's a very dedicated young man. Although, I am not surprised because his brother, Nathan, was exactly the same way," The whole family has raised Austin to be very straight-forward. He's not a smart alec like other kids his age can be. They're all class acts," he added.

Santie has noticed the unbreakable bond that Austin shares with Allan and the rest of his family. But on the race track, it seems like Austin and Allan are inseparable.

"I remember when Allan first brought Austin out to the track for practice. They would go around-and-around out there -- all the while Allan was teaching Austin how to handle different situations. And Austin has a very level head. When he began racing, his goal was not always to win, but to take a learning experience away from the track," Santie said.

"My dad has given me excellent advice, like when to run low, when to go high and how to navigate the corners. My mom video tapes all of my races so that I can see what I am doing right and what things I need to work on to become a better driver," Austin said.

Many precautions have been taken to secure Austin's safety. He wears a fire suit that costs in the neighborhood of $1,000. His car is equipped with an on-board fire system that extinguish flames in the cockpit by pulling a cord. The vehicle also has the Hutchinson Head and Neck Support System that is commonly worn by all NASCAR drivers.

"The faster cars begin to test the physical endurance of a person," Allan said. "We have modified the car to fit Austin's capabilities, making it more easy to steer. He has come along amazingly fast. I think the thing that shocks me the most is that he has such a smooth style of racing at such a young age."

But Austin believes there is a higher power which is responsible for is success.

"God has given my dad the ability to build cars and he's given me the talent to race cars. I think that's a powerful combination that's really tough to beat."