Lucas Oil Speedway Spotlight: Willard High senior Austin Joplin balances racing, sports and school
WHEATLAND, Missouri (June 5, 2019) - Austin Joplin took a short break from working on his race car earlier this week, calling it "kind of a lazy day." There aren't many of those for the 17-year-old who just completed his junior year at Willard High School.
When you talk about time management, Joplin is a master juggler. Along with maintaining and racing his car in the Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mod division at Lucas Oil Speedway, Joplin is a three-sport athlete who excels in football, wrestling and track and field.
"It's difficult at times," Joplin said of balancing his academics and extracurricular activities. "There's a lot of times where it's, 'Man, how can I keep up with both of these?' But really, it's all about priorities. Racing is what I want to do. As much as I enjoy football - and I want to be there with my football team as much as I can and I'm making it to all the football camps that I can this summer - but when it conflicts with a race, it's race day and that's where my focus lies."
Joplin, this week's Lucas Oil Speedway Spotlight Driver of the Week, is looking forward to getting back to action on Saturday night as the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series returns from a lengthy break. The Ozark Golf Cars USRA B-Mods are the featured class, with a 25-lap $750-to-win main event. That's in addition to a B-Mod makeup feature from a May 11 rainout, to begin the program.
Gates open at 4 p.m. with hot laps at 6:30 and racing at 7:05. A program presented by TA/Petro and KY3 Digital also will include the Pitts Homes USRA Modifieds, Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Models and O'Reilly Auto Parts Street Stocks.
Kaeden Cornell is a year older and again is a leading contender in the Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Model division. Cornell's team has been a big help in molding Austin Joplin's racing career.
"I've always been interested in racing because my Dad (Mikey) raced back in the early 2000s," Austin Joplin said. "I looked up to him and was always like, 'Man, that's what I want to do.' Then we know the Cornells - Kaeden, Aaron and Tracy. When Kaeden raced go-karts they had a go-kart track in his grandparent's backyard. We went over to watch him cut some laps and they let me cut some laps in a go-kart. That's when I really got hooked and fell in love with racing.
"They've been a huge help," Joplin added of the Cornells. "They've kind of been our guideline all along. They've been helping us every step of the way and have been so valuable in helping us succeed."
Cornell's car owner, Rick Hoover, even has given support to Joplin's efforts with parts and cash. You can find the teams pitted alongside one another at Lucas Oil Speedway.
"Rick really is a huge help," Joplin said. "He helped us get a carburetor and that is not cheap. It was really important because it gave the crate motor we run some more life."
Other sponsors include Cloverleaf Auto Repair, R&R Graphics, RCCS Complete Construction Services, E&Js Barber Shop, Denco Aluminum and Choate Farms.
While Joplin would love to follow Cornell's path and eventually get into a Late Model, he's willing to patiently pay his dues and hones his skills.
"Right now I'm just gonna do the best of my in the B-Mod and try to do right by my competitors and everyone else," Joplin said. "We'll just see what kind of path lays ahead of me."
Joplin called the 2018 season as "a dream come true" to be in the top-10 points mix at Lucas Oil Speedway, saying he "was just happy to race there and have that opportunity at all. It was super exciting and made us excited for what we can accomplish in the future."
Joplin's successes aren't limited to one sport. As a standout linebacker and fullback, Joplin was named Class 5 all-district and team MVP in football last season. He also wrestled in the 182-pound class over the winter and ran the 100-meters and sprint relays this spring.
Football could be a path to college. He's trying to sort out his options, but makes it clear that racing will be a major factor in his decision.
"I'm still working out what I want to do," he said. "If I can get scholarships for football and/or academics, I would like to do that. But I also want to stay close enough where I can stay racing. It's kind of give and take. We're trying to work through that right now."
Going into the late summer and fall of this year, Joplin looks forward to playing football on Friday nights and racing on Saturdays.
"We have a lot of returning starters," he said of Willard's football team. "A lot of juniors played last year and we will have a lot of seniors who will really be coming into their element."
On the race track, Joplin looks to continue his progress in what's arguably the most-competitive class around with past USRA B-Mod National Champions JC Morton, Kris Jackson and Andy Bryant leading the way.
"We're looking to try to stay top-10 in points and really find some consistency," Joplin said. "We have made every feature this year. We want to make every feature the rest of the season and hopefully get top-10 finishes."
Adults (16 and over) $12
Seniors (62 and over)/Military $9
Youth (ages 6-15) $5
Kids (5 and under) FREE
Family pass $30
Pit pass $30