Yes this is an old article--but it took a lot of time, so we're reusing it.  Hopefully we'll find more time to write a few more like it in 2010.

Shane Cottle and Dustin Hueston; Mini Sprints Provide Next Step for Tomorrow's Star

Shane Cottle and Dustin Hueston at Lawrenceburg Speedway '08

For many racers the American Mini Sprint Association is a stop rather than a destination.  Over the years the A.M.S.A. has been a revolving door for young talent—with go-kart and quarter midget drivers utilizing the series as a stepping stone towards midgets and full-size sprints.  “It’s one of the main reasons Lawrenceburg Speedway has formed such a tight relationship with this group.  It’s a training ground for our sprint car class.  In the last year or so I’ve watched no less than five young drivers successfully make the step into sprint cars”, commented Lawrenceburg’s Dave Rudisell.  

While there have been quite a few American Mini Sprint Association drivers that have tasted success at higher levels in the sport, the group’s current poster boy has to be Shane Cottle.  To date Cottle has seen victory lane in midgets, sprint cars and silver crown cars and has earned a position as one of the top open wheel shoes.  

Reviewing the long list of victories on Cottle’s resume and having had the opportunity to watch the skill he exercises in piloting an open wheel car around the track, it is hard to imagine Cottle as a beginner.  It just seems that drivers like Cottle just appear.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  His website even lists one of his most embarrassing moments in racing as flipping his mini sprint during the pace lap.    Like most of today’s top drivers Cottle was not an overnight success—he has a history in the sport that dates back to his start in quarter midgets when he was knee high to a grasshopper.  He has suffered his share of set backs and has soldiered on.  Shane Cottle is a good story for any young driver with hopes of a career in the sport. 

Cottle is one of the American Mini Sprint Association's success stories.

Although Cottle started down an open wheel path in 1980 as a quarter midget driver, his next step would be into a modified where he raced in Danville Illinois.  As fate would have it after just a couple short years in a modified, Cottle would make the switch to mini sprints.  A family friend had a mini sprint sitting that was sold to Cottle and his father.  The pair began racing the car with the American Mini Sprint Association (AMSA) in 1990.  At the time the group was competing in events throughout Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, including Danville, Illinois where Cottle had competed in his modified.  A quick study, by 1992 Cottle had earned an AMSA championship and decided he was ready to go sprint car racing.  

Cottle pictured in the a mini sprint at Bloomington in 1991.

Cottle and his father purchased a winged sprint car and began campaigning at tracks like Haubstadt and Bloomington.  The pair quickly discovered that financially the step was a bigger one than they were ready for and returned to the mini sprints.  Like many other racers have found, when the financial demands of sprint cars and midgets have become too much, the mini sprints provide a competitive opportunity to go racing on many of the same tracks where the big cars compete at a fraction of the cost.  While Cottle moved back into the mini sprints, he never gave up on the dream of racing the sprints and midgets.

Cottle pictured with his family and the Gross mini sprint in 1996. 

The mini sprints continued to allow Cottle to develop as a driver.  During the next several years he won several features and was a consistent fixture in the top five where he traveled with the American Mini Sprint Association circuit that included tracks like Danville, Liberty, 35 Raceway, Montpelier, Lawrenceburg and many others.  Competition was intense during those years as he competed against drivers like Jamie ‘Hud’ Horton and Larry Bland who currently owns TP Wings.   

Cottle not only owes a lot to the mini sprints as a training ground, but also as a match maker.  During Cottle’s time in mini sprints he met fellow mini sprint competitor Danelle Sutton.  Danelle raced with the American Mini Sprint Association for 2-1/2 years until a bad crash ended her driving—however she went on to become Mrs. Shane Cottle.  Danelle also spent three years as the score keeper for the A.M.S.A.  Today the pair have two children, including a son and a daughter. 

Cottle not only has racing to thank for his career, but also his spouse.  Shane pictured with his wife Danelle-who is also a former A.M.S.A. competitor.

Like so many talented drivers, Cottle knew that making it in the sprints and midgets was beyond his family’s financial means.  The next step would require assistance.  During his time running in the AMSA Cottle continued to seek rides in the midgets and sprints with sporadic success, but his real break came when he hooked up with Kevin Gross and family.  They campaigned a mini sprint together and eventually decided to make the step up to midgets.  A career that thus far consisted mostly of mini sprint racing with a few starts each season in a sprint or midget got a big boost.   

If there is a single thread that runs through Cottle’s career it is the value of perseverance.  Unfortunately we have reached a point where too many drivers feel defeated if they aren’t winning races in a midget or sprint car by the time they are 18.  Reviewing Cottle’s finishes since 1993 you will see that it wasn’t until just a few years ago that he became a consistent fixture in the sprints and midgets.  While there were top five finishes and even a couple of victories through the early years—most seasons you could count the number of midget and sprint car starts on one hand.  By most people’s accounts it wasn’t until he hooked up in the Edison ride in 2004 that Cottle really broke into the big time.  It was in the Edison car that he earned a Gas City championship.  Ironically 2004 was also the first season that Cottle received any consistent seat time in a sprint car—running in 41 races.  Over the past few seasons Cottle’s number of starts have continually grown to a point where they now number over 70 events each season. 

Today Cottle is in one of the best positions of his career as a pilot for Contos Racing.  The Contos stable includes both sprint and silver crown cars allowing him to spend time in both series.  Aside from his ride with Contos, Cottle has also made a handful of starts in a midget for Darryl Saucier. 

As a product of the mini sprints, Cottle is very complimentary of the series.  He believes that the cars are an excellent step in any driver’s development offering a unique opportunity to experience the handling characteristics and tracks of the full size sprints and midgets at a fraction of the cost.  Thanks to the mini sprints the most difficult part of the transition to sprints and midgets was to be found outside the cockpit—in his search for a ride.  While the sprints and midgets have additional power resulting in greater speeds, Cottle explained that the handling characteristics remained fairly consistent. 

A New Crop of Drivers Gains Experience in Mini Sprints
Just as Shane Cottle has reached the peak of the sport, a whole new crop of young talent is making their ascent.  At the mid-way point in the season, eighteen year old Dustin Hueston has a strangle hold on the AMSA’s season long points championship with four victories and several top five finishes.  Hueston is hopeful that like for so many others, AMSA success will equal a shot at seat time in a sprint car or midget.  

Hueston’s career as a racer started not on four wheels, but two as a BMX competitor.  A neighbor that let an eight year old Hueston take a spin on his bicycle sparked a love for racing that continues to this day.  At nine years of age Hueston began racing bicycle motocross.  For the next three years Hueston and his family would spend their time traversing the Midwest as they chased the BMX circuit.  At the conclusion of Hueston’s BMX career he was ranked 14th in the nation.  

Hueston’s exit from BMX racing at 12 years of age would come as the result of another free spin—but this time on four wheels.  One of his father’s friends had a quarter midget that had been sitting around for some time.  Once again Hueston was offered a free spin in the car.  It only took one practice session and he was hooked.  Additional practice sessions followed along with a training session at Mini Indy.  When he successfully passed the training session it was determined that he was ready to go race.  Hueston proved a quick study in the quarter midget earning a victory in his very first outing.  The family friend was gracious enough to allow him to campaign the car for the next year. 

Like so many of today's open wheel racers, Hueston got his start in quarter midgets.

Quarter midget racing is extremely competitive and surprisingly expensive.  Hueston and his father Ron determined that their continued emersion in this sport would require an upgrade to their equipment.  While they managed to upgrade equipment, they remained on a budget that was considerably less than many of their fellow competitors.  Perhaps the hallmark of Hueston’s quarter midget career and what ultimately lead to his mini sprint ride was the ability he and his father possessed to make the most of what they had.  The Hueston’s upgraded equipment and determination earned them 2 Indiana State Championships and two local championships in Heavy Honda and Heavy 160 prior to Dustin’s 16th birthday.

Hueston pictured at speed during quarter midget competition at an indoor venue.

In a day and age when the key to advancing seems to be more closely linked to one’s pocketbook than their on-track talent and determination—Hueston’s move into mini sprints is a refreshing one.  While Hueston and his father had their heads down concentrating on their quarter midget effort, their actions spoke louder than words gaining the notice of another quarter midget owner, Ron Green.  Green’s grown children were no longer involved in quarter midget racing, however his love of auto racing kept him involved as a car owner.  While Green was supporting another quarter midget racer, he was quietly observing the Huestons.  “Dustin showed a lot of on track talent.  Both he and his father seemed to work so well together.  Most of all I could tell he was an upstanding young man.  They are really the kind of folks you would like to help”, commented Green.  

After some preliminary discussions Green approached the Hueston’s about allowing young Dustin to pilot a car for he and his wife Sandy.  Known for his relentless approach to research, Green carefully considered which class of racing would provide the best training ground for his new driver.  The upright mini sprints seemed to leap to the forefront.  The car’s similarity to a sprint car, competitive fields and local schedules that featured premier facilities like Lawrenceburg Speedway and Twin Cities Raceway Park were all factors that weighed heavily in his decision.

Hueston driving Ron Green's mini sprint at Lawrenceburg

At the beginning of 2006 the new team of Hueston and Green purchased a used 1000cc mini sprint and set their sites on joining the American Mini Sprint Association.  Although Dustin admits that the cars were much quicker and a little harder to handle than the quarter midgets he was accustomed to, he proved to be a quick study.   After being forced to transfer through a B-Main for the first time, Hueston made his mind up that it would never happen again.  Since that time he has never failed to transfer into the feature through his heat race. Hueston’s first win came during an indoor series in DuQuion, Illinois.  As is so often the case the first win is the hardest to come by.  His second win came during a season of consistent top finishes in 2007 which nearly earned him the AMSA points championship. 

Hueston pictured with car owner Ron Green-left, and father Ron Hueston on right after a victory at Lawrenceburg Speedway.  

Today Hueston is hard at work attempting to earn his first mini sprint points championship.  While he has his sights firmly set on making the move up to sprint cars, he is also thankful to be where he is and fully aware that his next step will require the same type of good fortune that allowed him to climb out of a quarter midget into a mini sprint.  Unless a ride comes along in a midget or sprint, Hueston’s plans include a return to mini sprint racing in 2009.

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