FORT KENT, Maine — Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault has a busy weekend coming up.
He could find himself sitting in a race car for at least 500 laps.
On Saturday afternoon and evening, he will drive his Brad Keselowski Racing Ford Fusion at the IWK 250 at Riverside International Speedway in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. On Sunday morning, he will fly to Oxford for Sunday night’s 40th annual TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway.
He will be driving his own Ford Fusion on Sunday.
“I’m excited,” said Theriault. “I’ll be running in the biggest race in the Maritimes on Saturday and the biggest race in the northeast on Sunday.
“I don’t think I’ve ever run 500 laps in one weekend. It’s going to be important to stay hydrated. Hopefully, it won’t be extremely hot,” added Theriault.
On Saturday, he will be racing against his boss, 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup points champion Brad Keselowski.
The Sprint Cup series has a week off.
But Keselowski will be doing just the IWK 250.
He ran the Oxford TD Bank 250 in 2010 and finished 22nd after starting 39th.
So what will happen if Theriault is battling Keselowski for the win on the last lap?
“I’ll find a way to get around him if I’ve got the faster car. I won’t race him dirty,” chuckled Theriault, who will actually test Keselowski’s car for him this week.
“It’s a brand new car they built for him,” said Theriault. “I’m sure he’s going to be good.”
Theriault has finished third in the last two TD Bank 250s.
“I’m tired of coming up short,” said the 19-year-old Theriault. “I’ve had a good enough car to win but I came up short at the end.”
Theriault said he will have members of his Keselowski and his Maine crews working with him on Sunday at Oxford.
He is coming off a win in his last race, the Rumble In the Pines 150 at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C. on June 23.
He tested at Oxford last week and was pleased.
“It had just finished raining so there was no rubber on the track. All things considered, the car was pretty good,” said Theriault.
And Mayberry has returned it to a Pro Stock race without Sprint Cup drivers.
Ryan began scheduling the race to coincide with the off weekend for Sprint Cup drivers in 2004 and he brought in Sprint Cup drivers to run the 250 every year like Matt Kenseth, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne, Terry Labonte and Keselowski.
Ryan made the switch from Pro Stocks to the less expensive Late Models for the 250 in 2007.
“The Pro Stock cars are a little faster,” said Theriault. “It will be a curve ball for the drivers who are changing from Late Models to Pro Stocks.”
But he thinks the fans will see a similar race.
“A lot of the guys on the [Pro All-Stars Series] tour you used to see but haven’t seen the past couple of years [since the switch to Late Models] will be back,” said Theriault .”Not having a Cup driver in the race won’t change the way I approach the race.”
He said he knows some fans will be upset that they won’t get to see a Sprint Cup driver on Sunday but he said those drivers were always guaranteed a spot in the field so now “one more local guy will have a spot in the field. We’ll see how it works out.
“Having a Cup driver in the field adds a little bit of publicity and prestige but everybody knows about the Oxford 250. They even know about it down south,” said Theriault, who has relocated to North Carolina while working in the Brad Keselowski Racing shop.
“When you say you won the 250, it doesn’t take away from [the win] just because a Cup driver wasn’t there,” said Theriault. “You still won against some of the best guys in the country.”
Frenchville native Shawn Martin, who finished 11th a year ago and eighth two years ago, said losing Cup drivers isn’t a big deal.
“It’s all the same to me. The Cup drivers put on their pants just like we do. It was definitely great for the fans. But I think we’ll put on a good show,” said Martin.
“It’s going to be a very good race,” predicted Bangor’s Gary Smith, who has entered several TD Bank 250s and had a career-best eighth-place finish in 2006. “There is so much talent in the PASS series and among the local drivers. There will be more passing. It’ll be a much more competitive race.”
Smith won’t run the race because he hasn’t run well in his new car in the PASS North Super Late Model [Pro Stocks] and said it’s not worth the expense at this time.
“When I first started racing, just qualifying for the 250 was like a win,” said Smith. “But now that I’ve raced long enough, I want to be competitive. I want to have a chance to have a good finish. I want to race so bad but it doesn’t make sense financially. If I thought we could run well, I’d run it in a heartbeat.
“I’ve got a good car but I’m just not comfortable in it yet,” said Smith, who hasn’t cracked the top 10 in a PASS race this season.
He figures it costs him at least $4,000 to run the 250.
“You need four sets of tires, three for the race and one for practice, and each set is $650,” said Smith.
He said it costs $1,200-1,500 to run a PASS race, which are usually 150 laps.
Another driver who won’t be in the race will be Distance Racing Products owner Jeff Taylor of Farmington.
“I’m just too busy and I don’t want to spend a bunch of money changing my car over [from a Late Model to a Pro Stock],” said Taylor. “To do it the way I would want to do it, with all new parts, it would cost me $20,000.”
However, he will still make his imprint on the race as he figures he will have 15 of his Distance Racing Products cars in the race. Taylor supplies everything but the engines.