Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault was still basking in the afterglow Monday after a remarkable Friday night in which he won an Automobile Racing Club of America Series race at Michigan International Speedway in his ARCA debut.
He was the first driver to win in his ARCA debut since Alex Bowman in 2011.
He captured the Corrigan Oil 200 racing at his first track longer than one mile. Michigan International Speedway is two miles long.
He was driving a Toyota Camry for Venturini Motorsports, and he outdueled pole-sitter Mason Mitchell after a restart with 17 laps left. Mitchell was leading on the restart, and Theriault was second.
“It’s the biggest win I’ve had in my career up to this point,” said the 20-year-old Theriault, who was also driving at speeds higher than he had ever run.
“Our average speed was 185-190 mph,” he said.
Theriault had sought driving time in preparation for the second of his three NASCAR Nationwide Series races, the New England 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12.
He finished 15th in his first Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway last month.
Theriault obtained some sponsorship money and then a contact in Maine set him up with a ride for Venturini Motorsports.
ARCA is a stock car series established in 1953 that is separate from NASCAR.
“The ARCA cars are just as heavy as Nationwide cars, but the body style is a little different,” explained Theriault. “My goal for the rest of the year is to get as much seat time as possible so when I do race on the Nationwide Series, I’m as good as I can possibly be.
“I wanted to gain experience at mile and a half and two-mile tracks so when I have that opportunity in a Nationwide car, I can capitalize to the best of my ability,” he said.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a 1.058-oval, and his final Nationwide race will be at the 1.5-mile track at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 20.
The arrangement with Venturini was for just the one race.
“It was a unique situation, but it happened to work for us,” said Theriault.
He had tested a Venturini car at Pocono Raceway the previous week, logging five laps over the 2.5-mile track.
“The ARCA series is pretty competitive. There are some pretty good teams in that series, and they run at the same tracks as the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series do,” said Theriault.
Billy Venturini, general manager of Venturini Motorsports, served as Theriault’s crew chief and was impressed with the young driver.
“He did a great job,” said Venturini. “He is a quality kid, and you could tell he had savvy as a driver.”
Venturini added that Theriault has a bright future.
Theriault qualified second, and he said he had an exceptional car and team.
“Billy was confident the whole weekend, and I had a similar feeling,” said Theriault. “He has won here before with other drivers. I figured we were going to have a competitive car and that we would be in contention. We were pretty conservative in practice and qualifying, and we were fifth fastest [in practice] and second [in qualifying].
“I always race better than I qualify, especially when I’m still in the learning process. The more laps you get, the more comfortable you get, and the faster you are. Practice and qualifying gave me a real good gauge of how good we were,” he said. “That track is so big, you can make some mistakes, and it won’t bite you so bad. It’s a good track to learn and get your feet wet at those speeds.”
Theriault is going to do some marketing junkets until his next race, which will be a Pro All-Stars Series North Super Late Model Race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough on July 5.
“It’s exciting. Hopefully, we’ll get some stuff going to allow us to race more in 2014, but our main goal is to put something together for 2015,” he said.
He will accompany the JR Motorsports team, his Nationwide Series team, to the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup races June 27-28 at Kentucky Speedway.
“Kevin Harvick will be in the [No. 5] Nationwide car, so I’ll be able to listen to him and pick up a few pointers,” said Theriault.
After the July 12 Nationwide race at NHMS, he will compete in the TD Bank Oxford 250 on July 20 at Oxford Plains Speedway.