They say that time heals all wounds.
It has been nearly seven months since Walkertown, NC Modified driver Brian Pack lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident. The Southern Mod community and the very close-knit Pack family struggled with the loss throughout the second half of last season. Racers and families bonded together in the time of tragedy. Brian’s father Gene, a veteran racer himself, came back to the track and raced in his son’s memory. Teary eyed, he fought through the emotions at the place he felt was a second-home… the racetrack. Gene’s “Green Machine” ran the remainder of the season with a tribute to his son painted on the back of his #31.
Shortly after Brian’s death, the Pack family was honored at Bowman Gray Stadium before the start of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race. The pre-race festivities were touching to all who attended. Drivers released 81 balloons into the sky, in honor of the car, numbered 81, that Brian Pack drove.
With the silence of winter shattered by the rumbling of Modifieds once again in the south-land, a new season births new life. The scars of a tough year filled with loss have been replaced by anticipation and excitement. For the Pack family, the time has come to return to racing. The Packs will be towing to the track as a family again, and with two different rides. This year, Brian’s 15-year-old son Austin will fill his father’s seat, and enter the world of Modified racing to continue a family legacy.
“For 28 years there hasn't been an opening day for me without my son,” said Gene Pack, the patriarch of the Pack racing family. “Now that he's gone, I'm looking forward to building a new tradition with my grandson. Even though it's not the same, it's just as exciting for me to know that our racing tradition is going to continue with Austin.”
For some, Austin is an unknown and the news comes as a surprise. While the young Pack has experience in the go-kart ranks, it’s been a few years since he has actually raced. Making the hop from running the stock class in karts at Riverside Speedway in Madison, NC to running a 600-horsepower Modified is a mighty big jump for a 15-year old. But, racing has always run through the Pack family’s veins and Austin and his grandpa are confident about the learning curve ahead.
Although Austin hasn’t been at speed in a Modified yet, he has been behind the wheel of a “ground-pounder.” He paced the field in his father’s #81 ride before Ace Speedway’s Inaugural Brian Pack Memorial race last year. Once behind the wheel, Austin knew right then that he wanted to race again.
“I got into the Modified at Ace for the first time to take pace-laps in my dad’s car. I don’t think anybody expected me to take off like that,” laughed Austin.
“I’m real excited about this year. I used to race go-karts a couple of years ago. I’ve been thinking about getting back into it (racing). It’s been a while. Just one day I knew I wanted to run again. I asked my grandpa if I could and he said yeah that they’d think about it. So, here I am now.”
The Packs plan on testing Austin extensively before throwing him out there into competition. . His first test was planned for this week at Asheboro, NC’s Caraway Speedway. That test got rained out. They plan on testing Austin at Caraway, and two other North Carolina tracks, Ace Speedway and Bowman Gray Stadium, in preparation for his Modified debut later this summer.
That debut will have to wait until Austin turns 16. On July 7th, he becomes eligible to compete in the NASCAR Mod ranks. Initial plans have Austin potentially running the last five weekly Mod races at Bowman Gray Stadium, and then the final-five NASCAR Tour events. While his schedule is not concrete, long-time friend of the Pack family, David Sell, told us that the youngster may also compete in the September 5th race at Myrtle Beach Speedway and a few days later at the race named in his father’s honor at Ace Speedway.
“Most of the time, I am going to practice on the weekends in the mornings at the Stadium or whenever I can with my grandpa, wether its at the Caraway track or at Ace. Maybe later on when I turn 16,.he might throw me in and let me run a few races.”
“I expect to learn a lot. I expect to learn a lot about each track and how to run it. I hope to keep improving and test a lot and get to run some races.”
Beyond the maturation process behind the wheel, Gene Pack hopes that racing helps his grandson be the best person he can be inside-and-out of the car.
“I hope the discipline he learns while racing against the best drivers in motorsports helps him mature and develop into the kind of person his dad was,” added Gene.
The wounds from losing a son will never fully heal, but for Gene, things will surely feel much better when he is on the track with the next generation. The watery eyes from last year will soon be replaced by a twinkle in the eye of a proud grandfather.
“I can't wait until I see him on the track,” added Gene. “I can't tell you the disappointment I felt the other day when his first test session was canceled due to weather. Now, hopefully you'll see a Pack on the track for a long time.”
“We talk about how much fun it will be to race with each other and how excited we are for the season now,” said an excited grandson.
The pressures of teenage life can be tough for any 15-year-old. Add to that having to cope with the loss of a father, and Austin has had his share of emotions to process at a very young age. The Carver High School (Winston-Salem, NC) student keeps busy though, between working out and playing both football and baseball. Now he will add another sport to his list of activities, by climbing into his father’s #81 Modified. Strapping on a race helmet is something that Austin says will bring him a great sense of pride.
“It was a real tough year for me,” admitted Austin about losing his father in July of 2008. “I’m pretty excited to race but you still have that feeling in the back of your head about what happened. You get that sad feeling. But then on the other end you have the happy feeling that you are able to represent him by running the car that he ran. It’s going to be cool to go out there and represent him for what he did.”
The support that the race community gave the Pack family in their time of need helped strengthen Austin and his family and has him even more ready for the challenge of becoming the next racer in the Pack family.
“It makes me feel good and makes me feel ready to represent my dad. I am ready to step into his shoes and fill in his place.”
It's now time for Austin to continue the Pack family racing heritage. He has all the inspiration he needs to shine behind the wheel of his father's car.