Motorsports musings for 2018

Episode 194

January 7, 2018

Tuition cost of motorsports is very high

This week I intended to share some stories about County folks doing great things with tractor restorations, antique tractor pulling, and loving the camaraderie resulting from those adventures. However, a post by Beth Griggs Richeson today has changed this episode to one that will require bumping the tractor folks to next week. Don’t miss episode 195, I think you will enjoy it.

Before I tell about Beth’s post,  I must emphasize that from a young age I knew that my motorsports activities were going to be limited by my lack of spendable dollars. I knew that when I used a brush to paint my single speed pedal bike “Petty Blue” and gave it the number 43. It did not take a great deal of searching to discover other kids who could afford much better equipment.

My cousins and I raced our pedal bikes for hours around my neighbor Uncle Jim’s house on Grimes Mill Road because it had a circular driveway which included a dirt track element (his driveway) and a paved portion (the actual road). We had spotters in those early days not for race traffic rather to warn of approaching cars which threw our pedal bike race under a red flag condition.

Later forays into the world of racing cars (stock cars, ice racers, and autocross), purpose-built electric-powered racers, modified pulling tractors and karts taught me that I would not have the money to compete at the highest levels of motorsports. I lacked talent, time, and money. I did compete in the top class at Spud Speedway in the mid 70’s and won four feature races and 10 heat races in my three-year “career”.

There she is the key to my success at Spud Speedway, the #10 Ford built by Bobby Alexander when he lived in Mars Hill. HTF Motorsports photo

To this day in fact, I know that I cannot spend the money I would need to get a win at Spud Speedway in the Northern Maine Karting Association (NMKA) Senior Cage Kart division. It appears my only chance of winning as it stands now is if the top karts have mechanical failures. I have been winless in three seasons. I must evaluate why I am there and if that is what I want to do prior to each season.

I have excellent sponsors who have helped me along the way. Their unwavering support allowed me to race. At the same time, I hope I gave them some exposure for their business.

I give you some of my background so that you know I have some idea what competing in motorsports entails cost-wise. It does take money to compete at each level with top-level competition requiring sometimes unimaginable costs.

As mentioned earlier, Beth Griggs Richeson posted something on Facebook which caught my eye. Beth is the wife of Donnie Richeson, the crew chief for Austin Theriault in the 2017 ARCA Series. She and her husband grew to love this young man from Northern Maine, who was almost like a son to them. In addition they grew to know Austin’s family and developed a healthy respect for them as well.

Donnie and Beth Griggs Richeson. Richeson family photo

This is what she posted which I am using with her permission: “I thought about not sharing this because it makes me cry, but then I thought that maybe someone could help share in hopes that someone just may want to help. ”

Austin Theriault looking at the 2018 Ken Schrader Racing stock cars at the shop. Beth Griggs Richeson photo

“This is a picture of Austin, our Champion driver from last season, that I picked up at the airport last night. He was returning home from visiting his family in Maine for Christmas. We went to the race shop and as you can see, the first thing he did was start checking the cars out that our new drivers for this race season will be racing.”

 “As most of you know, we love Austin like a son. Reality has started setting in because believe it or not, Austin, at this point will not be racing this year because he does not have a sponsor. It is so hard to wrap your mind around how is it possible for a driver that led an entire season in points, won 7 races, broke records never broken, walked away with almost every award given at the banquet and won the championship, can not have people pounding at the door for him to drive?”

“Reality is, this day and time it is not talent that gets you a ride, it is money and that is why you see so many good drivers leaving the sport or moving to other teams that cost less money to race with.”

“We are still praying that something will come along for him because he definitely has talent and he doesn’t tear up race cars. We even told him to start a go-fund me and let all of his fans pitch in to help but because he is such a humble young man he just will not ask.”

“I even had a dream that we got fans and Christian people to donate and we put a bible verse on the car each week instead of a sponsor name.”

“If there is any of you that would like to share in hopes to find sponsors that would like to help, not necessarily do the entire sponsorship, but maybe even just put something to get their name on a truck or car, please go on his page Austin Theriault and send a message.”

Wyatt Alexander of Ellsworth posted, “So frustrating. Someone can go out and dominate the ARCA series, lead the points from race #1 and win 7 races on a dirt oval, road course, asphalt short track, intermediate, and super speedway in route to being the champion… and so far still not have a ride for next season in anything, let alone one of the “top 3” series.”

This situation is not only noticed by folks in Maine or by those close to the Aroostook County aspiring racer. Justin St. Louis, promoter and motorsports writer from Vermont said,

“One good thing about Austin Theriault is that he has a much larger fan base than most drivers of his age and experience level. He’s a good kid, well spoken, genuine, and it helps that he’s a very talented driver.”
“If you asked any one hundred NASCAR fans where William Byron was from, ninety of them couldn’t tell you. If you asked the same one hundred fans where Austin Theriault was from, at least half of them would know he was from Maine. That’s a nice feather in his cap.”

“Hometowns used to be SO important in big league sports, but they aren’t marketed like they used to be. Ken Squier was so good with that.”

“Go to YouTube and watch any NASCAR race from the 1980s and pay attention to the starting lineup: “From Barstow, Florida, Rick Wilson in the 4, and from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, it’s Ron Bouchard in the 47.”
“As you know, New England is a hard place to get just about anything done. I think the geography does limit racers, for sure.”
Spud Speedway track owner and businessman Troy Haney of Caribou spoke about the situation saying, ” I think that it is unfortunate that sports in general, have become more about money than talent.”
“With this trend, sports enthusiasts miss out on the opportunity to watch the best athletes compete and we get to watch the most marketable people on our television. Modern athletes have to be young, talented enough, and most importantly connected to people who can bring lots of money to the table.”
“Austin has the talent and determination to compete at the highest levels of racing anywhere, unfortunately he has a bigger challenge, finding support of deep pocketed companies that see him as their potential spokesperson.”
“I would also add that Austin has the personality that any company should be looking for as you cannot find a more respectful, well spoken young man. I have had the pleasure of watch Austin grow in this sport from when I watched him win the first Spud 150.  I hope that this is not the end of watching such a talent.”

“We still hope to see a company/race team step up and chose talent over money. With the right talent the team that takes a chance on him might see a bigger return in the end.”

I want to end on a positive note because I am an optimist by nature. As mentioned in last week’s blog, Austin will not give up this dream though he may be discouraged at times.
I think of Russell Currier from Stockholm, Maine trying to make the United States Olympic Biathlon team for the second time. In a recent interview on WAGM-TV  by Sports Director Rene Cloukey, Currier noted that he needed great finishes in races this month to get the fourth and final spot on the Team USA squad competing in South Korea next month.
He said his experience from the previous Olympics helped him realize what he had to do, yet that did not mean he would not be nervous about his efforts. As of press time tonight I saw that Currier was the best USA finisher in race one today and second best USA finisher in race two.
Just as Currier has put his best effort forward to land a spot on the USA Olympic squad, Theriault did what he had to do last year at Ken Schrader Racing and ARCA. Both need external events to line up with potential success. Go get ’em guys!

A shot of the Chili Bowl National pit area inside the Expo Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gives one insight how huge this race is. Can you imagine the parking skills required to fit into this space? Photo courtesy Chili Bowl Nationals

It’s Chili Bowl time!
The biggest indoor dirt track race of the season, the 32nd Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals gets underway with practice at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday January 8th. The official entry list has 357 drivers.
Qualifying races begin Tuesday thru Friday with finals on Saturday. All races will be on until Saturday when MAVTV takes the broadcasting reins.
Some drivers in the show include Kody Swanson, Justin Algaier, Rickey Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne, Tim McCredie, Dave Darland, Rico Abreu, Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, and Sammy Swindell to name a few.
Northeast Motorsports Expo January 12-14
The 30th Northeast Motorsports Expo at the Augusta Civic Center will kick off on Friday January 12 at 4:30 pm. The show is one of the largest of its type in the Tri-State area featuring tracks, vendors, pit stop competitions, and chances for folks to share stories and make plans for the 2018 season.
General admission is only $10. I hope to have a few photos from folks who are able to attend.

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona here I come

From all appearances I will be covering the 56th Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with my sidekick Bill Hale. We plan to be at the track on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to cover large portions of the race and seeking out stories of interest.

While in Florida, we plan to go to the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in Ocala on Thursday. I suspect there will be plenty of photo opportunities as we view the historical pieces that Garlits has put together in five separate facilities. No way we will be able to see all in one visit.

One person we hope to meet with is Daytona’s Head of Grounds, Jason Griffeth who is a County native. We will unveil the front-stretch logo he has been working on since November of 2017.

The race will feature three classes, prototypes (DPi and LMP2), GT Le Mans (GTLM), and GT Daytona (GTD). The new Acura Prototype campaigned by Penske and the revised Mazda Prototype now run by Joest Racing will be must see teams as well as the veteran teams.

Penske ARX05 DPi Photo courtesy Honda Racing

Fastest of the prototypes in the “Roar Before the 24” last weekend was the Action Express Racing #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac driven by Filipe Nasr. There are 20 entries in the prototype class.

Chevy Corvette in the hairpin section at Daytona International Speedway. Chevy Racing photo

Miko Bortolotti in the Grasser Racing Team Lamborgini Huracan GT3 set the pace in GTD class. This class features several rich owner drivers who also hire pro-drivers to work with them. There will be about 20 GTD entries in the field.

Reminder to look for a story about the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club in Episode #195 next week.

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