LOUDON, N.H. — Austin Theriault seemed right at home at New Hampshire Motor Speedway even though he was eight hours from his native Fort Kent.
The 17-year-old picked his way through the field from his 12th-place starting spot to finish third in the third qualifying heat race of the American-Canadian Tour Late Model All-Star Challenge.
Three heat races and two consolation races, all 20 laps apiece, determined 36 spots. The rest were filled via provisionals.
“I really didn’t know what to think going into (the race),” said Theriault, who will start fourth in the 44-car field. “I mean, 20 laps is a long time here.”
Theriault avoided a multicar crash early on and picked his way to third by the 10th lap. He challenged Mike Bruno of Castleton, Vt., for second, but couldn’t complete the pass.
“We were faster, but the thing of it is here at Loudon, these cars have no motor (to pull the car off the turns),” he said. “It’s so hard to pass here. There’s really nothing more I can say other than you really just have to wait for the other guy to make a mistake. I tried to run low, but I just couldn’t keep the momentum.”
Saturday’s race is broken up into a 25-lap opening race in the morning. The finishing order will be inverted for the evening’s 50-lap race. The finishing order is determined by combining the results of both races.
Theriault is back with his family-run team after parting ways with Rick Paya Motorsports, the team he tested with recently at NHMS.
“The thing of it is that we’re in control of our own destiny. That comforts me a little bit more,” said Theriault.
Fellow Aroostook County native Shawn Martin, originally of Frenchville, but now resides in Turner, also raced his way into the field by finishing sixth in the first consolation race.
“We were free (loose) in that first race, so we tightened it up for the second race,” said Martin, who’ll start 22nd. “The car was really, really good on that short run.”
Birch Harbor’s Rowland Robinson Jr. was one of the eight drivers to earn a provisional. He’ll start last in 44th.
“If we didn’t make it, I was going to load up and race at (Speedway 95 in Hermon) tomorrow night,” said Robinson, who recently turned 22.
I’ve been getting into (turn) one really, really good on the bottom,” Robinson said. “Most corners I could drive in hard and get right in beside them, but just as soon as I wanted to get on the throttle, it would lose all rear grip. We’ll try to get the balance a little better.”
Ben Ashline of Pittston, who will start 21st, got to know how important aerodynamics are on a one-mile track.
“It is very difficult to pass. Like the (NASCAR Sprint) Cup cars on TV, they’ll say they have an aeropush (while) behind a car and I couldn’t go any faster,” said Ashline. “When you’re behind a car here, you can feel that. When you’re by yourself you feel like Superman, but when you get behind a car, it’s a totally different car.”
Two-time Oxford 250 winner Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass., will start on the pole.
Other Maine starters include Brad Babb of Windham (13th), Ricky Rolfe of Albany Township (14th), Scott Luce of Strong (37th), Glen Luce of Turner (38th), Dave Farrington Jr. of Jay (39th) and Dennis Spencer Jr. of Oxford (40th).
Tommy Ricker of Poland was the only Maine driver not to make the field.
Drivers understanding of odd schedule
The American-Canadian Tour is using a unique scoring system for its inaugural All-Star Challenge at NHMS.
The race features two segments, a 25-lap opening race and a 50-lap finale with an inverted field for the second race. Drivers’ finishing positions from both races will be added together to determine the winner, much like Thunder Road Speedbowl (Barre, Vt.) uses for its annual Milk Bowl race.
The format wasn’t questioned by the drivers, but the time between the races was.
The 25-lap race rolls off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday while the 50-lap race doesn’t start until 6 p.m., 7 1/2 hours later. The IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights will practice with qualifying between the ACT races as well a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race.
“It’s a terrible schedule,” said Rolfe. “But if we want to race here, we have to go by their (NHMS) rules.”
Martin echoed Rolfe’s sentiment.
“It is what it is. We’re the low guy on the totem pole this weekend,” said Martin.
Babb was concerned about track conditions between races.
“I don’t even know how the cars are going to go at 6 o’clock,” said Babb. “If we’re good in the morning, they’re going to put all the Modifieds and IndyCar rubber down and the track is going to be completely different. It’s going to set in the sun all day.”
Theriault thought of the positives of the gap.
“It will give us some time to rest,” he said. “It’s a little different for the fans. I think everyone came here to watch racing, no matter what time we’re going out.”