UpNorth Motorsports Highlights of 2017

Episode 193

December 31, 2017

Aroostook County man becomes first from Maine to win major series title

Austin and family at Salem Speedway after a win on a short track. AT Racing photo

2017 was a season to remember not only for Austin Theriault. His followers from the most northeast state were treated to what could happen when hard work is coupled with the right team making the right decisions throughout a race season.

What began with a conversation at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) hallway at the Indiana Convention Center in December 2016, culminated with a title for Ken Schrader Racing and Austin Theriault. Seven wins in a 20 race series is an accomplishment in itself. Wins at each type of track; short, intermediate, super speedway, road course, and dirt gives one an indication of how magical the #52 team’s season played out.

Win number seven of the 2017 ARCA Racing Series. This one at Kentucky Speedway an intermediate track. AT Racing photo

Post race interview after a second place finish at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Theriault won the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds dirt race a few weeks later. Those two races were his only dirt track races in his career. Photo courtesy Austin Theriault

What type of statistics did Theriault put up? Incredible, the type of season that most race car drivers would love to have. Here they are:

7 wins (35%)                                   Average start 7

Top 5  16 (80%)                               Average finish 4.2

Top 10 19 (95%)                              Did Not Finish (DNF) 1

Laps completed (98.2%)                 Laps led 280

Austin’s season highlights video. Includes Spud Speedway shots also.

What will this mean for Austin Theriault in 2018? I wish I could say that he will land a paying contract with a major race team. Maybe throw in a major sponsor who will pay the bills. There are hundreds of young men and young ladies who have that same dream.

Theriault could look at his situation in a couple of ways. He could look at the statistics and say “Who am I? I guess I did all I could do. Now I must give up my dream.”

I think I know Theriault well enough that he will do the opposite. I suspect he has made the phone calls, listened to some proposals, and continues to look at the big picture and how he might fit into that scene.

The next few days and weeks will be critical times for the young man from Fort Kent. Many are hoping and wishing for the best for Austin.

The Flying Frenchman in the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame

Spud Speedway legends left to right Erny “The Flying Frenchman”Levesque , former track owner Barry Thibeau’s wife Mary, Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member Chink Maynard, and Joe Chamberlain. HTF Motorsports photo

One of the most rewarding moments in 2017 was spending time with Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque. Erny was selected to the Maine Motorsports “Class of 2017”  in October 2016. While visiting him several times at Forest Hill Manor in Fort Kent, I was privileged to hear not only Erny’s racing exploits but his personal story as well. I met many of his family and friends, all who seemed to have their favorite “Flying Frenchman” story.

I also found out that Austin Theriault is a man of compassion when he arranged time to visit Erny at Forest Hills. The two St. John Valley men shared some memories and mutual admiration for each other despite the age differential.

You may recall that Erny died a couple of weeks before his induction in April. Fortunately, Joe Chamberlain and Erny’s son Chet  had the insight to record him rehearsing what he would say when accepting his award. This occured several weeks prior. You could hear a pin drop as Erny’s distinctly French voice crackled from the speakers at the Augusta Civic Center. Dry eyes were in short supply after the acceptance speech and posthumous presentation.

Levesque family from near and far gathered to see Erny “The Flying Frenchman” Levesque’s induction into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame at the Augusta Civic Center. HTF Motorsports photo

Chester “Chet” Levesque in center receives the commemorative plaque on behalf of his deceased father. Presenting the plaque were Lorraine Chamberlain on left and husband Joe from Woodland. HTF Motorsports photo

Kody Swanson wins third USAC Silver Crown title 

Swanson family at USAC “Night of Champions” Awards Ceremony in Indianapolis, Indiana. L to r Mike & Darla Swanson, Kody, Trevor, and Jordan Swanson, with grandparents Glenda & Jim Oliver. Photo by Jordan Swanson

When Kody Swanson hit the wall in the infield at Gateway Motorsports Park just outside St. Louis, Missouri in 2016, he totaled  his DePalma Racing Silver Crown car. It was his worst race of the season for the Kingsburg, California driver now living in Zionsville, Indiana. That race coupled with bent suspension parts in the season finale at Eldora gave the 2016 Championship to Chris Windom by only five points.

Had Swanson finished only a position or two better,he would have clinched his third title in a row, a feat yet to be accomplished in USAC. His record in 2016 did allow the team to clinch the owner’s championship. With this year’s championship the DePalma team has four in a row and Swanson’s third in four years.

Swanson has 19 wins, placing him second on the all-time list of USAC Silver Crown winners. Jack Hewitt with 23 wins tops the list. Hewitt also drove the #63 during his era in Silver Crown.

Kody, Trevor and Jordan Swanson relaxing after the 100 lap USAC Silver Crown race at Phoenix International Raceway. Swanson’s wife Jordan also serves as his spotter. Kasey Thiesen photo

Dad if I put in that two pounds of air in this tire like you asked, you better not blame me if you smack the wall. Kody Swanson’s son Trevor at the race track. Is this his “secret to success”? Photo courtesy Jordan Swanson

Swanson busy with racing now

In what most consider the “off-season” Kody Swanson is in demand for indoor racing. This past weekend he was a “rookie” at the Rumble in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Rumble took place in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and utilized a 1/7 mile track on the concrete hockey rink.

The event took place Saturday evening with the midget race feature as the finale. The midgets are powered by VW modified air-cooled engines.

Kody Swanson in the Speed Chasers #8 midget before the Rumble at Fort Wayne. Photo courtesy Dan Martin

Swanson finished the feature in third place only a few lengths behind second place Kyle O’Gara. The race was won by Nick Hamilton, the younger brother of Kyle Hamilton. You remember Kyle was the winner of the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway the night before the Indy 500.

The rear bumper of the #8 Speed Chaser midget driven to third place by Kody Swanson. The majority of the dents were put there by Tony Stewart who eventually finished in sixth. Photo courtesy Travis Wilbur

Tony Stewart in the placed sixth in the feature after spinning early in the feature. Stewart is a ten time Rumble champion last winning in 2013. He drives a Mike Fedorak Munchkin. Photo courtesy Dan Martin

Swanson said, ” The Rumble was my first career (typical) ‘indoor’ race, and there was a lot to learn. We were busy right up until qualifying Friday trying to repair a broken u-joint and damaged driveshaft, but we got it running just in time to have some fun for the weekend.”

“Starting position was really important, it is really tough to pass, but I think with more experience I can get better at it!”

“The bumper portion of racing indoors is something I’m least comfortable with. I don’t like using the front bumper, usually at all costs, but it seems to be a necessary evil racing indoors. Luckily we had a pretty stout rear bumper, because we took quite a few hard shots, but I think that is all part of the deal.”

“Overall, I had a really good time racing with friends, learned a whole lot about racing at the Rumble, and am looking forward to a chance to try it again!”

Swanson will race next at the 32nd Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma January 8-13. He will be driving for the Brian Dunlap team. As of December 27, 2017 there were 337 entries for the Chili Bowl making it one of America’s most anticipated indoor races.

Tom Peters newest member of the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame

The October 2017 announcement that Stockholm native Tom Peters, now living in Presque Isle, would become a member of the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame “Class of 2018” definitely makes my highlight list. Peters is the first snowmobile racer to be named to named to the Hall of Fame.

Tom Peters with his restored racing Blizzard Ski Doo.
HTF Motorsports photo

Peters will be recognized at the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center in mid-April 2018. He will also be recognized at the Caribou Snowmobile Club Racing’s drag races January 28 at the Lodge on the Van Buren Road in Caribou.

Travis Pastrana sets record at Mt. Washington Hillclimb

Travis Pastrana shown here celebrating his win at the New England Forest Rally 2017 . This came only two weeks after he set the record time at Mt. Washington with a 5 minute 44.72 seconds run. Photo courtesy Matt Kalish American Rally Association

David Higgins was okay although his Subaru WRX was finished for the day. Higgins set the previous course record, 6 minutes 9.09 seconds at the 2014 hillclimb. Photo courtesy Scott Bryson

Luke Moultroup, who I featured in an earlier episode of UpNorth Motorsports, hazes the rear tires as he blasts out of the starting gate on his way up Mt. Washington on his initial run. which netted him a 7:30:25 time. Run two later that day he improved his time with a 7:08. HTF Motorsports photo

Bangor’s John Cassidy with co-driver Dave Getchell, Camden leave the line in Steel Tulip 4 at the Mount Washington Hillclimb 2017. The team bettered their 2014 time by more than 31 seconds thanks in part to engine tuners Synaptic from New Hampshire. HTF Motorsports photo

Jason White set record at Loring Timing Association Speed Trials

Loring Timing Association’s Harvest Event produced some fast times despite weather conditions that were not always conducive to racing. My most memorable was the 258.6 mph speed set by Northwood, New Hampshire’s Jason White in his RecMech Motorsports Corvette.

After setting the fastest time at the LTA Harvest Event, an elated Jason White prepares to exit his Corvette in the pit area. HTF Motorsports photo

Preparation for the 2018 season began for Jason White soon after the Harvest Event at Loring. White hauled his Corvette to the A2 wind tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina to test several “go-fast” modifications. Photo courtesy RecMech Motorsports

Scott Davis formerly from New Brunswick, now living in Ontario, Canada continued his three years hold on the Bill Warner Award for fastest speed at the event with a 263.190 mph run on his motorcycle.

LTA will be announced their dates for 2018 which will not have a spring date but will include a four-day fall race. The Maine Event will be July 10-15. The Harvest Event will be four days in length for the first time. Dates are August 29 – September 2. Each race will have the first date set aside for technical inspections.

Back to Daytona in 2018? 

The 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was special to me since I needed to be wheeled in a wheelchair at the track. I had hurt my back falling off my roof shoveling snow and herniated one disc. Fortunately my brother Bill was available to assist in the coverage of the race. Without him, I am unsure of what I would have done.

My highlights of the Daytona experience included having a hamburger at the Daytona Brickyard Restaurant with my former student, now head groundskeeper at Daytona International Speedway, Jason Griffeth. Very proud of the work he is doing at the world famous 2.5 mile super speedway.

Grandstand view of the Daytona logo at the start/finish line. This photo displays the handiwork of Jason Griffeth. Photo courtesy Lou Masciarelli

Long time acquaintance, Grant Weaver, Chip Ganassi Racing Team Manager and I before the Rolex 24 Hour race. William Hale Motorsports photo

An example of how close the GTLM class was late in the race. A caution flag with 1/2 hour to go allowed the fourth place Corvette team to lead briefly before getting passed. The four car Ford GT team won the race. The AMG Mercedes is the car prepared by Riley Technologiesin North Carolina. I took the photo at the International Hairpin. HTF Motorsports photo

I hope to return to the 2018 edition of the 24 Hour race which promises to be great. The Mazda Prototypes now will be campaigned by Joest Racing. Joest Racing won Le Mans 15 times, 11 with Audi. With Joest, Mazda gains instant credibility.

I also want to see the Acura prototypes which have teamed up with Penske Racing. Penske has been a long-time favorite of mine dating back to the Mark Donohue days in the late 1960’s. You can be sure that any car prepared by Penske will be competitive despite the new car potential for trouble.

Other highlights in photos

Damian Theriault, Caribou,  on right was undefeated in 2017. He won championships with the  Northern Maine Karting Association at Spud Speedway, Richmond Karting Speedway, and Thundering Valley. HTF Motorsports photo

Accepting his trophy as the 2017 Northern Maine Karting Association Junior Cage Kart Champion is Brian Searles, Presque Isle, on left . NMKA Awards Chairman Wade Bright is on right. HTF Motorsports photo

Left to right Robb, Penny and their son Ryan Messer celebrate his first trip to Victory Lane in the Pro Sock division at Speedway 660. Messer was also Rookie of the Year in the Pro Stock division. He will be competing in that class in 2018.  RYAN Motorsports photo

Tyler “The Flying Farmer” Raymond, Caribou with his first place plaque for 3,000 pound class and runner-up in the 3,500 pound class from the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club. The race team plans to pull two tractors in 2018. Flying Farmer photo

At Baxley’s SpeedShop in Windham with owner Charlie Baxley on left and my son-in-law Marc Cole. Baxley’s was one of two southern Maine high performance shops I was able to visit in 2017.  HTF Motorsports photo

Porsche 914 on a pull at Moberg dyno in Standish, Maine. This state-of-the-art dyno was one of two high performance shops I was able to visit in 2017.  Viking Performance Tuning photo

Dick Boisvert 69 years old outside his Aroostook County shop that he built to support his racing career at Spud Speedway. Boisvert was one of the stock car drivers I raced with during my stint at Spud Speedway in 1970’s. I was able to share memories and catch up on what Dick has been up to the last few years.  HTF Motorsports photo

This list is not meant to be exclusive. There are many more stories shared with me in 2017 that hold a special place in my memory. One thing about looking back is the perspective it gives me, knowing the many hours spent writing about you the racing community.

If you have story ideas for 2018, feel free to contact me at thale@reagan.com I am always on the lookout for motorsports stories especially those that may have roots in Northern Maine or Western New Brunswick. Many episodes originate from readers, so do not hesitate to contact me.

I hope your new year will be blessed. We do not know what the future holds but we do know who holds the future in His hands. Trust in Him. God bless.

Let’s Go Racing in 2018

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

Austin and Steve Theriault at Kansas Speedway. AT Racing photo

 

 

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. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine