PORTLAND — Austin Theriault of Fort Kent hasn’t got off to the start he hoped for with his new team.
But the 17-year-old feels the second half of his American-Canadian Tour season has a lot of potential and he would love to get it jump-started with a strong showing at Sunday night’s 38th annual TD Bank (Oxford) 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Theriault finished seventh in points a year ago while racing for his father Steve and their family-owned team. He finished second to Windham’s Brad Babb in the battle for Rookie of the Year by just three points.
He decided to join forces with Rick Paya Motorsports and defending two-time ACT points champ Brian Hoar this season and, by his own admission, it has taken him time to adapt.
He is currently 10th in points. He has two top-10 finishes but no top-fives.
“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs, but that was to be expected,” said Theriault at a TD Bank 250 press conference Wednesday.
Theriault decided to hook up with RPM because “they’re known for having success and that was the right direction to head in. I figured it would take us to the next level. Brian Hoar is a multi-time champion and a mentor to me. And Rick Paya knows what’s going on.”
RPM drivers have won seven of the last eight ACT points championships. Hoar has won seven championships himself, including the last two with RPM.
Hoar, a native of Williston, Vt., owns the record for ACT wins with 32 and he currently leads the points thanks to three wins and six top-fives in six races.
“We had a great run with our family-owned team last year, but the team chemistry changes when you change teams, although a couple guys have come over from my old team,” explained Theriault, who will be a senior at Fort Kent Community High School in the fall.
“But I see things turning around,” said Theriault. “The equipment I’ve had has been great every weekend. You know when you get to the track that your car is going to have the right setup. It has just been a matter of getting the car to do what I want it to. You’ve got to get the car to drive the way you drive. Some drivers like to get off the gas sooner than other drivers and some like to get on the gas sooner.”
He shouldered some of the blame, saying, “Maybe I came into this season a little too overconfident after last year.”
“But I have refocused and that’s also why I feel the next part of the season is going to be a little better,” said Theriault, who started 25th in a weekly race at Oxford last weekend and wound up finishing second.
He failed to qualify for the 250 a year ago, but said Wednesday, “I’m definitely a lot more confident than I was last year. I had never been to it until last year.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” he added.
They call him Joey Pole.
But his real name is Joey Polewarczyk Jr.
Polewarczyk, who is currently running sixth in points in the ACT standings, finished third in the TD Bank 250 in 2008 and is looking to vie for Sunday’s win.
He said his name has created some interesting situations.
“It’s definitely different,” said the 22-year-old Hudson, N.H., native who pronounces his name Pole-o-war-zick. “Sometimes they think it’s two different people when they hear my full name. It’s something I’ve dealt with it since elementary school. I knew when my teachers got to my name (calling attendance) because they would go ‘Joey’ and then there would be silence. I’d say ‘here.’”
He also pointed out that being called Joey Pole is a “good name” for an auto racer since the driver who starts up front is called the pole-sitter.
He has had a “rough year” with some mechanical failures proving costly, but he is optimistic about his chances Sunday. He has qualified for the last three 250s.
“We rented the track a couple of weeks ago for the first time and spent all day testing,” he said. “We saw what worked and what changes would help us. I feel better going into this 250 than I have in a long time. I’m really looking forward to it.”
He said he would rather “win this race than anything else. This weekend could change everything for me.”