What a Debut for Austin Theriault!

Episode #44

February 22, 2015

Fifteen year old Austin Theriault at his home track, Spud Speedway in Caribou, Maine. This photo is from 2009 when the Fort Kent native first got noticed for his exceptional driving ability winning the Spud 150.

Fifteen year old Austin Theriault at his home track, Spud Speedway in Caribou, Maine. This photo is from 2009 when the Fort Kent native first got noticed for his exceptional driving ability winning the Spud 150. photo by Hale

What a debut for Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault

If you would have asked me in 2009 if Austin Theriault would be at Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks 2015. I would have maybe said as a spectator.

If you would have said not only would he be at Speedweeks he was going to be in one of the best NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) teams I again would have doubted you.

If you would have said not only would he be with a top-notch team but would lead several laps and would finish fourth I would have truly doubted your timeline. I guess I would have lived up to the title “Doubting Thomas”.

For any of you who may have been in the most remote parts of planet earth, last Friday all of those events came true as Austin Theriault in the #29 Brad Keselowski Racing (BKR) Ford F-150 made Mainers proud when he drove to a fourth place finish in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at the “Center of Speed” Daytona International Speedway.

As far as I can determine with some limited research, Theriault becomes the first person from north of Newburgh (Rickie Craven’s hometown) to race at Daytona. If there have been others I would love to hear from you. Simply email me at thale@reagan.com.

I had to ask Austin what it was like to drive at 200 mph with 30 or more of his “best friends” nipping at his quarter panels? He replied,” It is all relative. On a big track like Daytona it felt fast during the first practice. You know how it is to drive on the interstate at 75 and everyone else is going the same speed, that is what it feels like. You get used to it.”

“You do not have to let off the throttle all the way around the track except to slow slightly so you do not hit the truck in front of you.”

“After awhile your eyes become accustomed to the speed and become trained to go that fast”.

I asked Theriault about the finish. He said, “I lost the race on the last pit stop. Tyler (Reddick his team-mate) beat me out of the pits. As we came out of turn four I got a run on Tyler who blocked me and I saw Erik Jones come by the outside and others coming from the inside. I saw that Tyler had it won and scrambled to get to the line.”

Corning, California native Reddick and Theriault looked like they had practiced the restarts where one would slip in front of the other and formed a two truck tandem which led the race for many laps. The maneuvers were done very well despite the lack of practice and drew many positive compliments from radio and TV commentators.

Theriault will continue to work at BKR in Mooresville,North Carolina and continue to look for sponsorship in the New England area as well as across the country. He will venture home sometime before his next race with BKR on  May 8th at the Kansas Speedway, in Kansas City.

With his great effort at Daytona I would hope some companies from Maine will step up to the plate and support the efforts of this native son.

Austin Theriault awaiting the beginning of the Spud 150 in September 2010. A blown tire prevented him from winning the 250 back-to-back. Frenchville native Shawn Martin won the 250 that day.photo by Hale

Austin Theriault awaiting the beginning of the Spud 150 in September 2010. A blown tire prevented him from winning the 250 back-to-back. Frenchville native Shawn Martin won the 250 that day.photo by Hale

Miscellaneous thoughts of Daytona Speedweeks

I was so happy to finally see racing once again. To me baseball spring training and Daytona signal there is hope for warm weather. Pitchers and catchers have reported and now the whole team as well. The smell of turfgrass and leather are some of my favorites.

I look forward to the day when the smells of racing will come through the television set to trigger those senses that come into play at the races. Nothing like freshly  burnt racing fuel and hazed over racing rubber.

I was as nervous as I can ever remember, probably dating back to when Rickie Craven and Kurt Busch came around turn four at Darlington in 2003 banging into each other for the lead and win. When Craven was declared the winner in the closest NASCAR Sprint Cup history I could finally breathe again.

That same feeling came over me as the 100 laps of the NextEra 250 unfolded in front of me as my brother and I watched the race on his big screen TV. I was sweating and could not sit still. My guess is that there were a bunch of Northern Maine Theriault fans who felt the same.

I felt sorry for Kyle Busch after he hit the concrete wall in the infield off turn one in the Xfinity race. He hit that hard. I am not sure what his speed was but he hit hard. He then crawled up on the window sill of his wrecked racecar and awaited the safety crew.

He did that with a compound fracture of the right leg. He is one tough cookie. I am sure he will be out for many weeks while his leg and foot mend. His young bride is going to get a workout keeping Busch in check.

As I recover from a torn Achilles tendon I can say my wife is a trooper putting up with her non-mobile husband who was confined to the first floor of our house. I can only imagine what Samantha Busch, who is pregnant with their first child, will be going through in these next weeks and months. Please pray for Kyle’s speedy recovery.

Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III Saturday evening stated, “The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today. We should have had a SAFER barrier there and we did not. We’re going to fix that right now.”

“This is not going to happen again,” he said. “We’re going to live up to our responsibility. We are going to fix this and it starts right now.”

Track workers installed tire packs along the section of wall that Busch hit Saturday evening.

“Come Monday, we’re going to start the plan to put SAFER barriers everywhere here.” Chitwood said. ” Finances don’t come into play. That’s not really a question. We’re going to get this fixed and we’re going to make sure we’re ready for the next event.”

I have some Joie Chitwood trivia. Some of you have heard of the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. When I was racing stock cars at Spud Speedway in the mid-seventies, track owner Barry Thibeau booked the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show at the Caribou track.

For two years in a row, 1977-78 when they were at the track he would cut the purse in half (from $300 to $150 to win) to help cover the cost of bringing the top-notch show to the track. Wouldn’t you know it, two of my feature wins were those nights when Chitwood was at the track. I often wonder if Joie III who would have been 8 years old was with his parents at the track.

From left to right fourth place Kendall Robbins, Elijah Archer third place, second place Wilson Saucier, and Bryan Searles winner of Cub Scout Pack 171 Pinewood Derby. All are from Presque Isle. photo courtesy Stephanie Ball

From left to right fourth place Kendall Robbins, Elijah Archer third place, second place Wilson Saucier, and Bryan Searles winner of Cub Scout Pack 171 Pinewood Derby. All are from Presque Isle and attend Zippel Elementary School. photo courtesy Stephanie Ball

What does a Junior Champ kart racer do in the off-season?

Bryan Searles, son of Stephanie Ball of Presque Isle, is spending part of the off-season defending his title as Pinewood Derby Champion. Searles recently won the local level race beating Wilson Saucier by a mere .0379 seconds to take the crown. Searles will defend his title later in the Pinewood Derby Regionals at the Aroostook Center Mall March 28 at 1 pm.

Searles, who is nine years old, placed second in the Junior Champ kart division at Spud Speedway in 2014. The division was won by Caribou’s Damian Theriault who will be moving up to the Senior Champ karts. Theriault won all ten feature races in 2014 plus was very competitive with one victory at Thundering Valley in St. Albans.

With the move of Theriault to Senior Champ, the Junior Champ title is up for grabs with Searles, Fort Fairfield’s Landen Leavitt and newcomer Braden Thibodeau of Limestone already entering karts.

Look for information about Frozen Mayhem II Vintage Snowmobile Racing Festival at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds on March 14th in Episode 45 next week. Until then…

Let’s go racing!

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.