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Behind the Wheel with Austin Kregle: The Final Round

Editorial Note: This is the final in a series of articles following Austin Kregle through the multi-state Formula Drift sanctioned 2016 Southwest Drift series hosted by VegasDrift. Photography by Hans Marquez, Matthew Fink, and Nicole Ellan James. 

[dropcap style=”style1″]T[/dropcap]hroughout the entire 2016 Southwest ProAm series hosted by VegasDrift, Austin Kregles goal has remained the same: to qualify and keep the car in one piece.

During the final round of the series, Kregle qualified in seventh position, entering the Top 16 competition for the first time behind the wheel of his 1995 Nissan 240SX. His first battle put him against the only other driver in the competition powered by an SR motor, Preston Watson.

Despite similar power levels, Watson maintained closer proximity to Kregle in the chase position and advanced in the competition.

dsc0599-1“The overall experience competing in this series was my favorite. It is something I will never forget. The good, the bad, the people I have met, the things I have learned and the places I have traveled” Kregle said, adding “it’s something that I can look back on later in life and be proud of.”

Preparation for the 2016 season began in March at Import Face Off in Phoenix, Arizona, where Kregle encountered his first set of transmission problems despite an overall good performance during the event.

The first round of the series kicked off shortly after in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Kregle managed to compete without any major mechanical errors though some transmission issues lingered. According to Kregle, the event showed him his car would need more grip to allow for speed and control. Additionally, “I learned that I need to step back and really evaluate my runs and do a better job of correcting the mistakes I make,” Kregle said.

Applying lessons learned, Kregle was significantly more aggressive and noticeably more confident than in Round One as he pushed his car to new limits during Round Two of the series in Denver, Colorado.

Looking very competitive, on his last practice run prior to qualifying runs Kregle crashed sustaining minimal damage. The decision was made to continue and try to qualify. However, a second crash rendered Kregle unable to qualify in the Top 16.

Round Three held in Tucson, Arizona, displayed Kregle’s continued driver-style evolution. He showed not only confident and aggressive driving, but a commitment to the desired drift line during practice.

Unfortunately during practice Kregle’s, transmission gave out, unable to handle the cars power, leaving Kregle unable to participate in qualifying runs.

Thoughts on Round Four –

CSJ: With only 17 drivers competing in this event, how did that factor into your mindset going into your qualifying runs during Round Four? 

_dsc0351Austin Kregle: During practice I had become more comfortable with the layout and was confident I could make a solid run. I knew that I had a good chance to qualify going into the competition because multiple people had mechanical failures which set the total number of drivers just below 16.

After seeing what happened in Round Three with multiple drivers scoring double zeros, I knew that all I needed to do was keep the car in one piece and just go A to B. I knew if I could put a score on the board I was almost guaranteed to qualify, so that relieved a little stress going into this round.

CSJ: What was it like to have qualified in seventh position? 

_dsc0395Austin Kregle: During my qualifying run I was just focused on not straightening the car out and focused on hitting all the areas the judges were looking for. I kept telling myself just make a solid pass and go A to B.

After my first qualifying run I was beyond excited, especially after looking back at my in car GoPro footage, I was so happy because I knew that finally qualified and would be going into the Top 16 for the first time this season!

I was a little surprised that I qualified that high, but I proved to myself, by qualifying higher than 16th, that I didn’t just qualify on a technicality. I accomplished what I set out to do: to qualify in the top 16 and kept the car stayed in one piece. It was definitely a great feeling and my favorite part of the event.

CSJ: During the Top 16 you went head to head with Preston Watson, what was that experience like?

_dsc0520Austin Kregle: It was a great experience! It was my first ever tandem during competition and was even more exciting to me because it was an all SR battle, you don’t see that that often in competition now days.

I had driven with Preston once during practice and I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about his line throughout the course, but I did know his SR had slightly more power than I did. Before our Top 16 battle my spotter told me that he noticed him driving a shallower line on first corner with a little wavering, so to be  aware but not to be phased by it.

During the run nether one of us made a huge mistake, like spinning or straightening, to where it was an easy decision for the judges. Looking back, I realized I didn’t have close proximity like Preston had during his chase which gave him the win.

CSJ: While this was a home event, it was a track you had never been on and the event was spread out over multiple days alongside Formula Drift Pro2, how did that effect your performance?

_dsc0359Austin Kregle: I was looking forward to the last round being at home so I would not have to travel or take off work, so when I realized this event was split up into three-days I was not too happy because it meant taking off work last minute and working the morning before practice.

From previous rounds, it was nice and cost effective having the event all in one day. It saves money on hotels and I do not have to take as much time off work. However, being split in multiple days relieved the stress of having to practice, qualify, and compete all in the same day.

It also gave me more time to fix an alternator wire that broke during qualifying. Had that happened during another event it would have been more difficult to fix it in time.

img_1820Even so I was at my home track, we were driving on a brand new layout so I had to learn how to drive this track just like everyone else. It was defiantly challenging and took me longer than expected to learn the layout out and find the best line, especially the first corner if it. That is was what I like about this series – Southwest drift likes to use new and different layouts to set a level playing field and prevent local drivers from having an advantage.

I felt a little more pressure because it was a more of a professional event with Formula Drift Pro2 combined with ProAM. There would be more spectators and higher profile people watching. The whole event had a much more structured and professional vibe than the local drift and drag events I attend on a monthly basis.

It was a great experience having both ProAM and Pro2 drivers at the same drivers meeting, The ProAM guys got to see what a professional drivers meeting is like, what is expected of Pro2 drivers, we were treated with more respect, and expected to carry the same level professionalism as the Pro2 guys. I also got a taste of what Pro2 tech inspection is like, what the competition is like, and  now have a better idea of what I would need if I were to compete in Pro2 someday.

It was awesome to have a lot of my friends and family come to the event who do not get a chance to see me drive or who haven’t been able to experience it in person. It defiantly made this event more memorable and special.

Over all I really enjoyed it.

Thoughts on the 2016 Southwest Drift Series –

CSJ: Having competed in each round of the series, what is the most significant thing you learned?

_dsc0522Austin Kregle: By participating in this series I have learned it requires a lot of work and dedication to compete in each round. From the numerous hours working on the car, to the amount of hours on the road driving to each event, and budgeting expenses to be able to afford competing in the entire series.

I have also learned that you cannot compete in this series by yourself. You need a crew that can help with repairs, changing tires, and also having a spotter is a must. When I decided to compete this year at first I did not think I needed any help, but my friend Brian offered to be my spotter. I quickly realized having him on my team was a tremendous help.

CSJ: Is there a moment or an experience at any point during the series that really stands out when you reflect on it?  

Austin Kregle: The moment that stands out the most would have to be the crash in Colorado. That was my first pretty serious crash drifting. After that I wasn’t sure if the car could be fixed or if I would be able to finish the rest of the series. And thats one of those moments where it goes back to having the dedication to be able fix the car and not give up.

CSJ: What has been your favorite part of competing in the series? 

img_8664-1_wmAustin Kregle: Drifting on the banked oval in Colorado had to be my favorite part of the series. It was very intimidating at first, but once I was comfortable and gained confidence riding the wall it was so much fun drifting on a difficult track like that.

CSJ: Are there any drivers you would have liked to have gone head-to-head with? 

Austin Kregle: I would have really liked to drive head to head against Bear Rzesnowiecky. He is a great driver with a very well built car.

CSJ: Are there any drivers you look up to after the series?

Austin Kregle: I look up to George Kiriakopoulous and Andy Hateley. I do not know them well, but they both appear  to have a solid program. I would like to learn how to market myself, and set up a drifting program like they do.

CSJ: How did you like competing alongside Andrew Schulte throughout the series?

_dsc9304Austin Kregle: It was a lot of fun! We are great friends and it was awesome to compete with him during this entire series and share the experience. It was awesome to be able to pit next to each other and help each other out if needed but I am bummed we were not able to battle against each other – maybe next year.

CSJ: What’s next?

Austin Kregle: I want to take a break and just have fun at local drift events and drift with friends for a bit. I do have some things I want to do to be better prepared for next year, like adding more power, so its a possibility that a new engine will be in store. But I also need more grip so I want to learn how to set my car up better and what I can do to have more grip and speed.

I also want to shout out and say thank you to Car Street Journal – Javier, Nicole, Hans, Matt, and Rebecca – it was an honor for you guys to follow me around and document my first time competing in ProAM. It was a lot of fun being apart of this series and hopefully this helps up and coming drivers who want to compete get an idea of what to expect. It was a great experience.

_dsc0396I would also like to thank my sponsors and companies who have helped me out this season: Efficiency Mechanical, 2F Performance, Dyno Comp, Voodoo13, Varrstoen Wheels, 18 Fab, Zestino Tires, and Element Powder Coats.

And I want to say thank you to:

  • My spotter Bryan – He sacrificed time away from his wife and work so he could be at every event to make sure I did the best that I could and helped me out any way I needed.
  • My dad who has been very supportive and willing to help me out whenever I needed and for traveling to nearly every event to cheer me on.
  • My girlfriend Chelsea for being very supportive and doing whatever she could to make it to each event to cheer me on as well as being very understanding when we couldn’t spend as much time together when I needed to get my car ready for the next round, and for helping replace my transmission.
  • A big thank you to Ravi for working very hard to find me a set of arm restraints on such short notice.  He Found me a set of arm restraints and delivered them to me the next day so I could compete. He also had the other required safety gear I needed.

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