An unwritten rule of racing used to be that rookies don’t win. After drivers like Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, and Jamie McMurray rapidly made their way through the upper leagues of NASCAR and Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne did it via the short tracks in recent years, and Ross Kenseth and Chase Elliott are doing even more recently, rookies have found Victory Lane quickly as they hurdled up the short track ladder. It’s happened so much in the past 10 or 15 years that a rookie contending for victory is now par for the course.
But, as routine as it seems, whenever a rookie comes onto the scene and steals the show, it’s still impressive and makes everyone take notice. Right now, in Texas, another rookie is rewriting the record books and it has all of the NASCAR short track racing world talking.
Sixteen year-old Zak Hausler is undefeated in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified competition at Houston Motorsports Park in Texas. It doesn’t matter that it’s his rookie season. It doesn’t matter that he’s just graduated from Legends Car racing, a completely different kind of car. It doesn’t matter that in one race, he had to hop in a competitor’s car after his blew an engine in practice. Hausler just keeps winning - so much so, in fact, that the officials at HMP have now offered a $5,000 bounty for anyone who beats him. No one has cashed in yet. Houston hasn’t been Hausler’s only stomping ground, however, as he’s tacked on some victories at Texas’ other NASCAR-sanctioned facility, Thunder Hill Raceway.
“Winning all those races as I have has been amazing,” says Hausler. “Being a rookie in my first year being in an actual big car was different. Me and my crew did a lot of testing over the offseason. And we knew we going to have a great season but to win all those races, we never thought it would happen like this.”
To qualify just how good Hausler’s rookie season has been, one needs look no further than the national NASCAR Whelen All-American Series point standings. The unique system has, for the last 30 years, used special formulas to determine how the seasonal accomplishments short track drivers across the country compare with one another. Hausler isn’t just ranked; he’s ranked sixth across the nation. He’s trailing only a handful of names synonymous with short track racing – Keith Rocco, Phillip Morris, Frank Deiny, Jr. – and quite a ways up on some other famous names – Ryan Preece, Lee Tissot, Ted Christopher and C.E. Falk, III.
Hausler seems to enjoy the system.
“To finish in the top 10 in the nation and win Rookie of the Year … wow, that’d be an amazing accomplishment.”
Unfortunately, due to the way the points system is structured, Hausler feels the relatively low car counts at Houston and Thunder Hill could hurt his chances of making that goal. That certainly won’t stop him from collecting more wins . In fact, with 11 feature winners thus far in 2011, Hausler leads all drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
One of the most interesting races of the season for Hausler came a few weeks ago, when a practice malfunction in the engine seemed to leave Hausler without a ride for the night. In what is probably his most impressive victory to date, Hausler hopped in the car of fellow competitor Michael Umscheid and drove it to Victory Lane.
“It was a car with a different transmission and a kink in the steering,” said Hausler. “The car was just completely different from mine. Getting used to it was a little different. It took me a few times. But it was a great car and getting the help from Umscheid made everything possible . It helps me to get some testing in different cars if people ever ask me for a ride. It gives you great experience.”
While borrowing a car from another competitor seems like it would be a big challenge, Hausler indicated that perhaps the toughest part of his season thus far has been going back and forth between two very different styles of tracks in Houston and Thunder Hill.
“Thunder Hill, it’s more of a one-line track and you’re more aggressive at Kyle [the city Thunder Hill is located in] to move someone out of the way to get around them only because there’s not really an outside groove. Houston is two-lane racing, so it’s a whole lot easier to get around someone. I like Houston a lot; it’s my home track.”
Hausler has $5,000 reasons to like Houston even more right now. If he remains undefeated during the season there, he will claim the bounty himself. If he can hang on and claim that prize, it will certainly help his team finance their next big project.
“Probably in October, we have a Pro Late Model with a crate motor in it and we plan on running Pensacola and plan on getting ready for the Snowflake (100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola).”
While the odds may be stacked against Hausler winning the prestigious Snowflake in December, anyone who has watched him compete thus far this year would tell you it’d be foolish to count him out.
After all, Zach Hausler seems to determined to leave the entire state of Texas in red dust.
“I've always wanted to exceed what I expect from myself.”