This 1969 Camaro, owned by Bucky Austin and driven by Bobby Cottrell, is making waves in the NHRA heritage series and illuminating win lights on the way. To say that the Austin family has a history professional drag racing would be an understatement. Walt Austin raced in the1950s through the 1970s before passing the torch to his son, Pat, who went on to win four NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car championships between 1987 and 1991. Walt’s brother, Bucky, established a racing legacy of his own, amassing more than 200 drag racing wins at Northwestern regional NHRA, AHRA, and open match events throughout his career.
Nicknamed “The Northwest Hitter,” Bucky established a chain of automotive repair shops throughout northwestern Washington, but his love for competition meant he was never far from the track. He helped form the Austin and O’Brien Racing, team, which has proven to be a dominant force. The team’s new driver, Bobby Cottrell, is living up to the Austin legacy in the NHRA Heritage series.
“I mean it’s a dream come true for me,” says Cottrell. “Before this season, I hadn’t driven a Funny Car. The biggest thing was coming into a team with this huge legacy, so it was a little nerve-racking. I had big shoes to fill with Kris Krabill having driven this car before me. So I basically went into the season like I’d go into a race – calming my nerves and listening to everything Bucky had to say, and we just went from there.”
At the helm of a 2,300-pound tube chassis dragster that’s outputting roughly 4,000 horsepower by way of a second-generation-based Hemi with a 6-71 blower and a top-secret parts list, it’s not hard to imagine how that could be intimidating even for a seasoned racing veteran like Cottrell, who had a long history in index racing before joining the Austin team. “The Nitro Nostalgia Funny Car class is really fun – it’s extremely competitive. Even I don’t know the percentage of nitro that Bucky’s using in the car!”
It also didn’t help that Cottrell’s season got off to a slow start. “We went out to Boise after I did my licensing passes, which went flawlessly, and I lost in the first round – I was just dead late on the tree,” he explains.
“Two weeks after that we went to Seattle for a United Funny Car Association race and I was hungry – I was not going to let that happen again. First pass during qualifying, an exhaust lifter broke and almost blew the body off of the car. So you can imagine what I felt like, like I was a bad luck charm or something.”
Whatever bad mojo that was going around early in the season didn’t stay for long. “The very next pass we set the track record,” Cottrell says. “We qualified number one and ended up winning the whole race. From there on out, that kind of set the pace for the season.”
The team went on to win the next five races in a row. They also set a record for the quickest run in NHRA Heritage Series’ history with a 5.52-second pass, along with another record for the fastest run in the series at 263 mph. JE Pistons would be along for the ride throughout the momentous season.
“We’ve really beat the heck out of the car this year,” says Cottrell. “We rotate pistons every run, but we’ve been using the same four sets of JE pistons all season. As far as the durability goes, we ran some pretty stout numbers and put ‘em right back in the car, and we’ve seen our competitors, who’re running two-tenths slower, melting stuff down. I know Bucky’s happy, that’s for sure.”
That durability helped the team make it to top podium spots throughout the rest of the 2017 season. Cottrell capped off his rookie year in the series with a sixth season win at the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion October, securing the Nostalgia Funny Car title in the process.