Track & Field: Austin Matzke performs on football field and race track

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

On Friday nights during the fall, Austin Matzke runs through the banner onto the football field at Cornerstone Christian School with his teammates, but 24 hours later, Matzke leads the pack on the race track driving close to 100 mph.

As a senior football player on the Chargers’ team, Matzke is looked at as a leader, while his true passion comes from the adrenaline rush he gets when pushing his way through traffic at high speeds to win races.

While there are plenty of two-sport athletes, most of the time you hear of them playing football and basketball or football and baseball, but you rarely hear of an athlete that spends several hours each day practicing for a game on Friday night and then immediately going home to work on a race car to have ready for the next day.

“I’ve had guys that have played basketball, baseball, football, several different sports, but this kid right here has a barbecue business, plays football and builds and races cars,” said James Lee, Austin’s head coach at Cornerstone.

Weekend of chaos

The normal Friday night for Matzke starts at 7 p.m. when he takes the field with his teammates for his senior season and ends around midnight when he goes to bed. He then then turns around and wakes up at between 5 and 6 a.m. to get his race day started.

He and his dad David Matzke will make a quick run to the store to get any last minute parts they may need. Then the two will get back to the house and get the car race-ready for that night. Finally, around 3-4 p.m., Austin and his dad load the car onto a trailer and head to a race that is normally at least 2-3 hours away.

“Most of the time we don’t even have time to eat lunch on Saturdays because we’re so focused on getting everything ready,” Austin said.

Bonding time

Cars and racing are something Austin and his dad have always enjoyed doing together and something he has known since he was as young as he can remember. It led to Austin buying his first car at the age of 11, which he promptly turned around and sold for $800.

Unbelievably he has owned two more cars, 19, than years he has been on earth, 17.

“As far back as I can remember, we’ve always fiddled around with engines and cars together,” Austin said of his dad’s impact on getting into racing at a young age. “My dad has always had an old drag car sitting around the house and we’ve always had parts and pictures. Seeing all of that and my dad putting me around it made me interested at such a young age.”

It’s a bonding experience that he and has dad don’t take for granted.

“We have our disagreeing moments, but we spend a lot of time working together,” David said. “There are times you get mad at each other, but it’s a great bonding experience and I hold a special place in my heart for it because I know how lucky we both are to have this kind of relationship.”

“My dad is probably the person I’ve looked up to most in life,” Austin said. “I’ve always wanted to do what he does. Ever since I was little, I’ve been around him more than anybody.

“We spend endless hours together, even thought they might not be the hours he wants to spend with me,” Austin said with a laugh. “He’ll say he doesn’t like it, but he’s the first one to smile and post on Facebook after I’ve won a race.”

Austin’s mom, on the other hand, doesn’t handle the intimidating and adrenaline aspect of the racing like Austin and his father do.

“The first time she went and watched a race last year, I landed on the wall. She watched that one and said, ‘yeah, I don’t think I can handle this,’” Austin said with another laugh. “She decided to give it one more try at my first race this year and I won. She thought that was a good time to be done.”

While the car itself is plenty safe with role cages and protective gear, it’s a worry that is well warranted considering some of the crashes and the physicality that comes along with it.

Last year, Austin totaled his car when he was run off the track and flew over an embankment. He was already banged up and bruised from a football game the night before and after the race he was really banged up, but was right back on the football field that next Friday night battling through.

“That’s the worst wreck I’ve ever had. I mean you beat and bang racing like this, but other than that, my new car has held up since we started using it this year. I try to just get out front so they can’t hit me,” Austin said with a chuckle.

Earning his stripe

What all of that beating and banging does leads to is having to make adjustments to his car each week, which cost money. The most recent car, a 1980 Chevrolet Malibu, is the first one he and his dad built from the ground up, not only taking up a lot of time and effort, but a lot of money as well.

“Each race I enter costs around $350 and you never know when a $1,000 part may break on the car that we have to go out and replace,” Austin said of the sports expense.

This might be the most impressive aspect about his story. Not only does he go to school, practice for football every afternoon, play football on Friday nights, build his race cars and race his built cars; Austin also earns most of his money for the car.

“I stay busy all the time,” Austin said. “When I’m not at football practice, I’m cutting grass and when I’m not working on the car I’m cutting grass. It’s just a constant schedule to keep doing what I love.”

Austin keeps up several yards throughout the year and sells his own barbecue to afford his dream.

“If I had back all the money I’ve put into these cars, I could have a real nice car at this point,” he said.

“A lot of kids around here talk about hunting season,” David said. “He talks about racing and what he’ll do with his Christmas money to fix the car.”

While he pours most of the money he earns into his car, Austin also has three great sponsors that help alleviate the pain slightly.  He went out to find all three and it didn’t take much convincing for Tread Wear tires, Truss Sales and ITS computers.

Dominating the track

Another way to offset the cost of each race and keeping up with his expensive cars is by dominating on the tracks where he can upwards of $1,000.

Having won seven of the last eight races he has entered dating back to last year, Austin has made a name for himself and is already working toward next fall’s season where he plans to race on bigger tracks.

He’ll be competing at Whynot Motorsports Park in Meridian, Mississippi, which is one of the biggest tracks in the southeast for dirt track stock car racing.

He’s already started breaking down his winning car to rebuild it. It’s a car that not only won its first race with Austin behind the wheel, but several more in 2017.

“He said it was a winning car, but he wants to go faster next year,” David said. “He’s already working toward making next year even better. I told him he would be a target in his pretty new car. He told me ‘They’ll have to catch me first.’”

If he does continue his winning ways next year, Austin will continue to find the nearest Waffle House for his celebratory meal after the race. Either way, win or lose, Austin knows the blessing he has been given and the lessons it is teaching him.

“Football teaches you a lot of leadership and to really want something,” Austin said. “Selling the barbecue and cutting grass has helped me learn how to manage my money and just make it to the races. You just grow up quick doing all that I manage.”

This will be the last year Austin will take the field with his Charger teammates, but his legacy will live on as a teacher of his young teammates who are still learning the game and what it takes to be a good leader. His spirit on the track, however, will live on forever as he continues to chase his dream of making it up the stock car ranks.