Is Hamilton Or Chase Capable Of Becoming The Tiger Of Open Wheel Racing?

By Gregory Moore
Updated: June 12, 2007

SAN ANTONIO — Normally I’m not one to watch open wheel racing on a routine basis. I’ll catch the Indianapolis 500 and I may watch a Champ car race on the boob tube every now and then.

But last Sunday, prior to getting ready for game two of the NBA Finals at the AT&T Center, I stayed home for a bit and watched the Canadian GP race. The reason?

Because there was a chance that history would be made and after two or three hours and few caution flags, it was; Lewis Hamilton won a Formula 1 race in just six tries.

Hamilton’s enormous feat is something of splendor here in the states because we do not really follow Formula 1 racing. This country is all about NASCAR right now and anything else, whether it’s covered in the media or talked about at the water cooler is just plain unacceptable it seems.

However, what Hamilton has done is remarkable and should be applauded. First of all, he is the first Black F1 driver to ever win a F1 race. Secondly, Hamilton is a successful racer with an acceptable team behind him.

If you go to his website, , you will find a couple of photos of this 22-year-old Brit who has been a champion at every level he has raced. Hamilton was the 2003 Formula Renault UK champ, the Formula 3 Euro Series champ in 2005 and the GP2 Series champ in 2006.

And he is also a ‘prophet’ as his story of how he became a McLaren driver is legendary now. When he was ten years old, Hamilton went up to Ron Dennis in 1995 and said he wanted to drive for him some day. Two years later, McLaren and Mercedes hired him as a driver and has been guiding his career ever since.

Hamilton’s story is indeed incredible but it also has a mirror image here in the United States. This country has a young driver of it’s own and he and his family have been trying to get over their hurdles for several years now. That young driver is Chase Austin.

For several years Austin and his family have watched his career yo-yo to a point to where the family was seriously looking at some tough decisions. Hendricks Racing killed it’s driver program after they had a horrific accident in the air with one of their jets a few years ago.

It forced Austin to race on short tracks while hoping to get back to a NASCAR sanctioned event where he can get noticed. That period of waiting finally paid off this year when Rusty Wallace, Inc. signed Austin to be the second driver in their program with Rusty’s youngest son, Steve.

Like Hamilton, this is the best thing that could ever happen to Austin. Austin will be competing in the Busch Series racing level; a notch just below Nextel Cup status. This season he is racing in the Busch East region but next year he is expected to be in the full Busch series.

What this means is that Austin will be in a state-of-the-art racecar that is prepared by RWI in Charlotte, North Carolina and he will have a team of professionals behind him. That puts him in an area where his driving skills will be put tot he test and where he can best showcase his readiness for the next level.

Both Hamilton and Austin are splendid drivers but they are also pioneers of sort. While drivers like Marty Buckles and George Mack have made some inroads for these drivers, both young drivers realize that they need to be the next “Tiger” of motor sports in the Black community.

Black drivers in any motor sport are still very few and far between and many in the community do not even look at these athletes as being something to get behind and support. Even though Hamilton is a Brit, the mere fact that he has African-Caribbean heritage has mass appeal to many and Austin of course brings in a young crowd of his own.

The trick to getting this community back these two drivers and the many others in all motor sports is to make them household names. That means that companies have to get behind them as sponsors and the community needs to realize just how unique these athletes are.

These young drivers are ahead of Black drivers because they have major backing and that is something that any driver needs. For Hamilton, being in F1 on a world stage brings the type of notoriety that can help him become a household name in this country.

In Europe he is already becoming a celebrated driver. Austin needs that type of following and that will only come in time; just like it did for Hamilton and just like it did when Tiger first started living up to the hype that he had brought with him.

This is the perfect time for a new fan base to form at the beginning of these two young drivers’ careers. Both Lewis Hamilton and Chase Austin haven’t even begun to reach their full potential but for those who want to see a movement in which more Black drivers become the norm in motor sports, there is no time like the present for those teams and federations to look at what these two drivers can do to ensure diversity into a still fast growing area of the sports world.