One of the unfortunate aspects of our great sport is that racers and teams tend to come and go with regularity, entering the fray and leaving a lasting mark before disappearing into relative obscurity some years later. Tacoma, Washington native Pat Austin competed full-time on the NHRA trail for a little more than a decade, earning a rightful place as one of the best racers to ever traverse the quarter mile.
Austin began competing behind the wheel of his family-owned Top Alcohol Funny Car in the mid 1980’s, notching his first national event win in 1986 at the Cajun Nationals in Louisiana along with another at the Springnationals in Columbus, ultimately finishing the year a close second in the points to Brand Anderson following a final round, winner-take-all matchup at the Fallnationals.
Pat rebounded in 1987 with his first of four championships in the class, all of which he would win between 1987 and 1991, losing only the ’89 title in that time span. He also earned his first U.S. Nationals win in 1988, and and another in 1989. His final championship in 1991 is one of the most dominating performances in history, posting the first perfect five national and five divisional win season and locking up the title in July.
When fellow Castrol teammmate Gary Ormsby passed away in 1991, Austin, with father Walt and brother and tuner Mike, purchased Ormsby’s Top Fuel Dragster operation and campaigned both cars at that seasons U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. This was the site of one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the sports’ history, as the Top Fuel rookie, competing in memory of the late Ormsby and with every racer, fan, and official the world-over behind his efforts, banged the blower on the burnout in the final round and dejectedly had to stand and watch Kenny Bernstein smoke the tires on his way to the Nationals crown.
Just tow racers later in Topeka, Pat earned his first double-win, besting Joe Amato in Top Fuel and Chuck Cheeseman in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and avenged his Indy loss to Bernstein with a victory at the Winston Finals in Pomona. Pat achieved his second double-up win at the ’92 Ford Motorcraft Nationals in Phoenix, and earned the Top Fuel crown at Indy in 1993. His last final round in Top Fuel came at Sonoma in 1995, where he lost to Mike Dunn.
Austin would continue to campaign his family Top Alcohol Funny Car for a handful of years, becoming the first racer in the class to exceed 250 MPH and record a 5.5-second pass. He earned his 75th and final national event win at the 2002 Winternationals in Pomona – placing him fourth on the all-time win list – and combined with his 81 divisional wins produced a total of 156 wins in NHRA competition. The Austin’s lost their longtime backing from Castrol in the late 90’s, and with the costs of competing on the rise, it signaled the beginning of the end for arguably the most successful driver and team of the era.
Labeled as the most successful drag racer born after the 1940’s, Austin was ranked 13th on the Top 50 drivers of all-time list by the NHRA in 2002. Today, at age 45, Austin is retired from the sport he once lived, breathed, and dominated, overseeing Pat Austin’s Pro Max Performance Centers, a national automotive parts dealer that also services vehicles in the Puget Sound in his home state of Washington.