Community Sports

Gig Harbor’s Austin Pavelek living life in the fast lane

Posted on June 3rd, 2024 By:

Exhilaration and pride dominated the day as 7-year-old Gig Harbor resident Austin Pavelek crossed the finish line at a speed of between 35 and 40 mph in his Quarter Midget Stanley car in Yakima on May 17.

It was his first time winning the Junior 160 Region race.  As he took the checkered flag to drive the celebration lap on the track that is 1/20 of a mile, his father, Travis, couldn’t have been prouder of the young racer.

Austin has only been competing for two years.

“It feels great to get first,”Austin said of his recent win.

Inspired by Lightening McQueen

Austin’s obsession with racing began after watching the Disney movie “Cars” when he was 4 years old. The family lived in Oregon then and found a track in the Thurston County town of Elma where Austin could try it out. He was hooked.

Austin Pavelek at Victory Lane on May 17, after winning his Junior 160 Region race in Yakima on May 17. Photo courtesy of Travis Pavelek

“He hopped in a car, and said, ‘I want one of these,’” Travis said. “He started as a novice, and they can do that at 4 1/2, and he started racing in the Junior class when he was 5.”

Austin will continue racing in the Junior class until he is 9. Then he will move up to the Senior class, for drivers who are between 9 and 16.

“You have to compete in three races as a novice to move up to competition,” Travis said. “There’s between six and eight drivers racing against each other at each event.”

Family tradition

Austin chose the colors orange and blue for his car, and his gear, because those are his favorite colors. His number, 82, is a family number. His grandfather, Mike Pavelek, raced the number 82 Sprint car in the 1970s and ’80s.

On a typical race day, drivers are running in three “heat” races of 15 laps, and three main events of 30 laps. In one day of racing Austin drives 125 laps, and he said he loves every minute of it. In fact, when he’s finished with a race, and is waiting for his next one to start, he races toy, hand-held cars with his racetrack buddies. 

Austin Pavelek rounds the corner of the track at the Quarter Midget Junior 160 Region race in Yakima. He drives a Stanley Quarter Midget car, and chose the number 82 in honor of his grandfather who raced the number 82 Sprint car in the 70s and 80s. Photo courtesy of Travis Pavelek

“Everything is a competition, everything is about racing,” his dad said.

Austin attends Discovery Elementary School, and said that his favorite subject is math, and he enjoys playing soccer at recess, but his true passion is racing. His favorite Nascar driver is Kyle Larson, with Donny Schatz and grandpa right behind.

Costs and sponsors

With his level of commitment to the sport Austin requires three cars. Each car costs about $3,000 to $5,000. Tires must be completely changed out every other race. His racing gear includes a helmet, shoes, gloves and fire suit, as well as the required neck restraint system that protects him if he wrecks, or rolls the car.

Precision Tune Auto Care of Gig Harbor is a local sponsor, along with Angry Duck Graphics, Brown and Bokondi CPA Group and Schultz and Sons Automotive. Travis said the Autin Pavelek team is always looking for more sponsors.

Dads collaborate

Dad is the pit crew. If there is a problem with the car, Travis has three yellow flag laps — about two to three minutes — to complete the repair and get the car back on the track, all while Austin is still secured in the vehicle. But, he said he always gets help, often from other dads. One might lift the car up, nose down, while another dad goes to work underneath.

“When the car breaks, it isn’t every team for themselves,” Travis said. “You’ll see four or five teams come together to help, even though we are racing against them. It’s very family oriented, and it’s one of the things that I love about it.”

Austin Pavelek took first place in the Quarter Midget Junior 160 Region race in Yakima on May 17. His dad, Travis, is dedicated to helping him succeed in the sport.
Photo courtesy of Travis Pavelek

Off the track, Travis said, the commitment for him is about 20 hours a week just to keep the cars in racing condition.

Travis’s stepsons — 11-year-old Jameson Mitchell and 9-year-old Walker Mitchell — also participate in the sport, racing the Senior Honda Light 160, and the Senior Animal Light 160 respectively. He said that their mother LeAnne is his rock, and he couldn’t do what he does without her. 

NASCAR future?

Travis has a trailer that holds seven Quarter Midget racing cars, and they travel to races throughout the region.

Austin dreams of driving on the NASCAR circuit. Travis said they hope to level up as Austin and his step brothers grow, so that they can travel the West Coast for races.

Spending so much time and money on the sport is worth it to Travis. He said he takes pride in making sure that the cars are in top shape for race day, so that the boys can do everything in their power to win a race.

“For me, when I see them come off the track, I feel what they are feeling,” he said. “I was so emotional to see him win.”