Composed, focused and respectful are qualities not usually found in a 16-year-old race car driver.
But Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault isn’t a typical teenage racer.
In his first start in a V-8 Late Model car, Theriault went to victory lane in last August’s Spud 150 at Spud Speedway in Caribou.
This year, he’ll race in the American-Canadian Tour and Pro All-Stars Series circuits.
Those are big steps for a young and fairly inexperienced driver.
“Austin is pretty focused,” said his father Steve Theriault. “He’s very mature for a 16-year-old.”
Connections made and people met during the past few years have enabled Austin’s parents, Steve and Terry Theriault, to get their son more time in a racecar.
“All these doors open with the right people,” said Steve Theriault.
Fellow Aroostook County driver Kirk Thibeau of Fort Fairfield knew Steve and was willing to help Austin.
Steve Theriault bought a competitive late model car for Austin the week before the Spud 150. Thibeau helped set up the car and provide guidance to the young driver.
“He caught my eye,” said Thibeau. “I watched him up to Spud and I was impressed with how smooth he was.”
Theriault used finesse to work his way to the front and hold off Ricky Morse of St. Albans to earn the win.
“He ran a good, clean race,” said Morse. “I don’t think his car had a scratch on it. I give him an A plus.”
The win and his attitude got Theriault more than a trophy that day.
“I saw how he presented himself on and off the track and I was impressed,” said Mainely Motorsports TV host and PASS car owner Steve Perry.
Perry formed his own team for the PASS tour this season and will have a handful of drivers behind the wheel. He tabbed Theriault to race five times in his Team Mainely Motorsports No. 12 Chevrolet.
“I felt like he had the talent to compete at not only the ACT level, but also the Pro All-Stars Series level,” said Perry. “I was impressed with how he handled himself up there with the guys he was against. They’re good racers and he was able to beat them. But it was the way he beat them. He beat them with grace and dignity. He had a professional manner and spoke with the utmost respect for all of them. Those are the types of things that impress me as much as his driving ability.”
Theriault will make his debut with Perry’s team Saturday at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough. He’s also scheduled to race at White Mountain (N.H.), Speedway 660 (New Brunswick), Beech Ridge in July and Spud Speedway in August.
Yarmouth’s Bill Penfold and Larry Moloney of Wayland, Mass., also will race for the team. Some races toward the end of the season have yet to be filled.
The Fort Kent Community High School sophomore also will run the majority of the schedule on the ACT circuit in the family owned No. 57 Ford. Still, the bar isn’t set very high.
“We’re not expecting a lot of success,” said Steve Theriault. “Just exposure and seat time. The fun factor has been excellent. We want to keep this fun.”
Traveling and competing at unfamiliar tracks will be a challenge. The Fort Kent-based team with a volunteer crew will travel as far away as northern New York and Connecticut.
The elder Theriault said sponsorship is also an issue and the team is seeking funding.
For Austin Theriault, it’s all about earning the respect of his fellow competitors.
“That’s one of my goals, to show respect to the veterans and all the racers,” he said.
Other goals include running the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway and to be invited to the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.
“[Racing at New Hampshire] would probably be our highlight of the year,” Theriault said.
New Hampshire would be a long way from where Theriault got his first exposure to racing.
“My grandfather got involved in truck pulling and did that over the years at different fairs across the state,” Theriault said.
At age 13, he became interested in stock cars.
“When Spud opened back up, my grandfather bought an old Pontiac Grand Am. It was all set up and everything,” said Theriault, who started racing at the track midway through the 2007 season.
A Dodge Neon and Ford Mustang helped earn Theriault a runner-up finish in the Four-Cylinder Young Guns class in 2008. The next year, he was crowned the champion in the Fast Fours.
After his Spud 150 victory, he placed fifth in the Spud 100 and qualified for his first ACT race at Oxford.
Austin will pilot the No. 57 Chevrolet for Spud races and non-sanctioned events throughout the state.