November 2, 2014
Making a living in motorsports anywhere in the USA is tough. Making a living at it in Northern Maine is extremely rare. A small population and low expendable income cannot support that type of business. Yet Jason Theriault, doing business as JRT Customs, in Caribou is making his mark as a master fabricator and mechanic.
Theriault works out of his 30′ X 40′ garage located at his home on the Madawaska Road in Caribou. He had worked part-time at the shop until two years ago when he decided to work full-time in his business JRT Customs.
“I can do this because I keep my overhead low,I own it,” said Theriault. ” It doesn’t cost much to heat it. Most days I can heat it for $4.00 per day.”
Theriault’s career started when he was ten working for Whitey’s Small Engine Shop in Caribou.He worked on mowers, rototillers, lawn tractors, and racing karts.
He then worked for Haines Manufacturing in Presque Isle where he made rubber parts for agriculture equipment and learned to do metal fabrication.
Theriault sharpened his painting skills as a painter for three years at the Maine Military Authority at the former Loring Air Force Base. His job entailed refinishing Humvees for the military.
Beaulieu’s Garage and Bodyshop of Caribou was next on his career list. During his two years at Beaulieu’s, he did bodywork and painting progressing to painter. He then went to work next door at Gagnon’s Auto-RV Sales where he was a mechanic.
Despite no formal vocational training, Theriault, over the course of two years earned his Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Blue Seal of Excellence Master Certification in all eight categories offered by this highly respected certifying agency. His ability to learn technical subjects is extraordinary.
I learned this first hand in the mid 1980’s I was racing karts in Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec as well as owning a small kart shop. I had just sold my inventory and was getting ready to move on to building an Electrathon race car with my students at Caribou Tech Center.
I would get phone calls from this kid who asked some technical questions about Briggs and Stratton racing engines. At first I thought this was someone reading out of a book. After a short while, however, I realized that this was a 12-year-old who was building his own engines for his race kart. He knew about cam timing, valve clearance, ring end gapping and ways to maximize power in a small engine. He was twelve years old!
Theriault cut his teeth racing karts at Spud Speedway, Speedway 95,Unity and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His field car, a Subaru Legacy, became his pathway for learning to drive full size cars on the field roads surrounding his home where his parents, Cindy and Bob Theriault, live less than a mile from JRT Customs.
While a teenager Theriault bought a 1995 Nissan D21 pickup which would become the vehicle that he utilized for a variety of projects. He filled the bed of the truck with four inches of concrete and tied it to his roof and installed such a powerful sound system that he held the Sanford Sound competition for ten years. His system produced 168 decibel which is louder than a jet engine and only slightly less than the 180 decibel a Space Shuttle produced at take-off.
The Nissan became his drag racing truck and show truck. He made his mark at the NOPI National Custom Car Show at Epping Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire in July 2010. He won Best of Show in the Custom Car class, the Elite Best Engine award, and first in the Custom Pickup class. His score in Best of Show was 98 of 100 points.
The pickup underwent its next metamorphosis as a Land Speed Racer when the Loring Timing Association began their speed trials at the former Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, in August 2009. The venue was so close , less than five miles away, that he could not resist the urge to see what was going on. At the time he was drag racing the pickup which soon became his entry into the new field of land speed racing.
Theriault earned membership in the 200 MPH Club with a run of 206 mph on the 1 1/2 mile Loring venue in July 2013. The boxy shape of the Nissan pickup required massive doses of horsepower to drive its brick-like shape through the air at 200 mph.
Theriault was asked what his top four customs projects which gave him the most satisfaction. “I would have to say the complete building of the 1972 Chevelle for Dwayne Gagnon was tops on my list”, he said.
The three-year conversion of Northborough, Massachusetts’s Carl Theriault’s 1987 Mustang was next. The car started it’s life as a nondescript 4-cylinder LX model. It now is fully built into a 800 horsepower land speed racer which Theriault earned top speed at the 2014 Land Speed events hosted by the Loring Timing Association. The Mustang went 221.568 mph at the summer Maine Event in July. You can read more about Carl Theriault’s exploits in Episode 13 of Up North Motorsports.
Project three was a 2002 Cougar wide-body kit built for New Sweden’s Chris Anderson. It took many hours of remolding to make the body just right.
Theriault’s 2004 Subaru STI project was a candidate for the his creative mind. He eventually modified the four wheel drive car with 580 horsepower necessitating extensive modifications to the drive line to take the power without breaking. He easily took top honors at Spud Speedway’s “Race Your Neighbor” for street cars.
Theriault’s partner is Janet Bosse who he met when racing karts at Spud Speedway in the early 90’s. Bosse’s Dad, Marcel Bosse, was and continues to be the Spud Speedway track announcer. When Theriault was asked if Janet ever beat him he replied, “No way”.
When kart racing returned to the Caribou track two years ago it was only natural that the two would enter their 12-year-old son, Damian, in the Junior Champ class. The younger Theriault has been track champion for each of the last two years. He has also enjoyed success at the Thundering Valley Raceway in St. Albans. He has never finished lower than third place in the races he entered at the Central Maine track.
“It (kart racing) is addictive”, said Jason Theriault. ” I knew if I tried it I would need to race karts. It along with drumming is what I do for hobbies. I also enjoy bowling with the big balls. Whenever I go through Bangor I try to fit it in.”
Theriault drove for Jere Humphrey’s Last Chance Motorsports team this summer. He finished fourth in points despite not entering every race.
What type of services are offered by JRT Customs?
What type of services must one offer to make a living in motorsports in Northern Maine? Diversity is key since volume will not be something he can count on if he specialized in one craft only.
JRT Customs offers powder coating, TIG, MIG, and stick welding, plasma cutting, gas welding, hydro-graphic dipping, painting, engine blueprinting, for street and race cars, 4 wheelers, race karts, stock and high performance transmissions, automotive restoration and customization. In addition JRT does mechanic work, body work, collision repair, and painting.
“I do pretty much anything automotive,” said Theriault. “My words of advice is that JRT is unique, priced right, with highest quality work.”
One final thought… Austin Theriault’s career as a wrestler at Fort Kent High School may come in handy when he makes it to the Sprint Cup. Might I suggest he take boxing lessons also 🙂
Let’s Go Racing
Soli Deo Gloria