Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault had been racing four-cylinder cars at Spud Speedway in Caribou.
But drivers and race people from the southern part of the state told Theriault and his father, Steve, that Austin needed to take the next step and that entailed moving up to a Late Model car.
So the week before the track’s biggest race, the Spud 150, Steve Theriault purchased a Late Model car for his 15-year-old son — who promptly went out and won the 2009 race in his debut in the division Late Model debut.
Theriault, who has won a host of races at several levels since then, returns to his home track on July 3 for the Aroostook Federal Credit and Loan Firecracker 200 Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Model race.
It will be Theriault’s first race since October when he capped off one of the best seasons of his career by winning the ARCA Racing Series points championship. He earned a series-best seven wins, including 12 top-three finishes in 20 races.
He has been unable to land a ride yet this season and is instead serving as a consultant for 18-year-old driver Chase Purdy in the ARCA Series for MDM Motorsports.
Theriault has helped guide Purdy to second- and fourth-place finishes in his last two races, respectively, after a 13th place showing in their first race working together.
“I’m the middle man between Chase, the spotter and the crew chief,” Theriault said. “I’m helping with the communication, and I’m helping him learn some of these tracks and different ways to approach racing. I have more experience than he does.”
The 24-year-old Theriault, who lives in North Carolina, has fond memories of his time racing at Spud Speedway and is looking forward to racing there again for the first time since he won his second, and last, Spud 150 in 2012.
“It will be nice to spend time with my family and see all the people and the sponsors in the community who have always supported me,” said Theriault, who will drive his own No. 57 car.
“This will provide another level of excitement … adding another high-quality racer to an already competitive field on the PASS Tour,” said Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney. “He won the first Spud 150 and his talent has taken him far.”
Theriault’s impressive resume includes four top-10 and two top-five finishes in 11 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, and six top fives in 12 races the K and N Pro Series East tour and six races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, which is one notch below the Monster Energy Cup series.
“I’ve had a lot of starts (at Spud Speedway) but I feel like I’ll be starting from scratch because I have raced so many different places since I last raced there,” Theriault said.
“It will be fun but there will be pressure. It’s a very strong field and this is the biggest race the track has seen in decades,” Theriault said. “I’m excited that they are bringing races back to the track. Hopefully, there will be a lot of cars.”
Spud Speedway closed after the 2015 season, but Haney has maintained it and has made a lot of improvements to it.
“It will be an extremely competitive field,” Haney said. “It’s safe to say we’ll have some of the best racers in New England and Canada.”
Racing starts at 7 p.m. and a fireworks show will follow the race. There will also be an Ikey Dorr 50-lap Street Stocks feature and a 50-lap enduro race.
Haney said the race card has been built around the Feed the County charity, and they have raised more than $13,000 for Aroostook County’s 24 food pantries.
Theriault has been keeping busy while trying to land a ride.
He also has done some spotting, which has given him a different perspective and enabled him to pick up some valuable tidbits, and he has also been learning about the business side of things while trying to line up sponsors.
“I have an entrepreneurial mind. I’ve seen many different angles of the racing business,” said Theriault, who has also done some testing on the track.
He is hoping by branching out and becoming more versatile it will open some doors for him.
He isn’t interested in being a field-filler, a driver who races for an underfunded team with sub-par equipment who has no chance of winning a race or even cracking the top 10.
“I want to drive but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know how to do different things. It makes me more well-rounded,” Theriault said.
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