FORT KENT, Maine — Professional NASCAR race car driver Austin Theriault of Fort Kent is moving into politics as a candidate for a northern Maine legislative seat, but an interest in government is not new to him.
Theriault will run as a Republican for House District 1 (previously 151) — which includes Allagash, Fort Kent, New Canada, Saint Francis, St. John Plantation, Eagle Lake, Winterville Plantation, Wallagrass, Portage Lake, Ashland, Masardis, Garfield Plantation, Nashville Plantation and Clayton Lake township — being vacated by Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, due to term limits.
At 28, Theriault is a few years older than Martin was when he was first elected to state office in 1964 at the age of 23. Theriault said he respects Martin’s longstanding contribution to northern Maine.
“Whether someone agrees with him politically or not, it is important to recognize that he has served the area effectively. The area needs another champion who is well respected and can continue to advocate for the future of development in Aroostook County,” Theriault said.
Theriault said he supports investments and economic incentives to keep rural Maine competitive with bigger cities. He said more needs to be done to support the trades and to incentivize local employment so that farmers, loggers and family businesses can be maintained in the area for generations to come.
Theriault has run five NASCAR Cup series races, six in the Xfinity series, 13 Truck series events and 22 Menard’s ARCA series races and won the 2017 ARCA championship points title. He currently works in the management end of the racing field, as a representative and mentor for young drivers.
Still, Theriault said he has been interested in political science since he was a teenager, although he has never held office in state or municipal governments.
“I would frequently visit presidential libraries during my trips to races in my late teen years and early 20s. One of the most memorable was Lincoln’s,” Theriault said. Theriault said his family — one of his main motivations to run — supports his decision to run for office. He said the opportunities for success he has experienced in life were not available to his grandparents.
“My grandfather [Richard Theriault] grew up poor on a farm with his large family. He stopped attending school in fifth grade because his father needed help supporting the rest of the family on the farm,” Theriault said. “He grew up without running water and sewer. His father died at a young age.”
His grandfather, who Theriault describes as his “pepere, settled down with his wife Betty Savage with a goal of ensuring their children had better economic opportunities than they did, he said.
Theriault said that although the world has changed since his ancestors moved to northern Maine to create new opportunities, area residents maintain the same work ethic, determination and sense of community and family that is not always found in other areas of the country.
“These are qualities that have been instilled in me from a young age, and I will use this to advocate for our area in Augusta,” he said.
Theriault said that he has gained experience during his career in racing that will help him serve the people of Maine and that his experiences working on teams will also come in handy when communicating with people with opinions and from all different backgrounds.
“Friends and family warn me to be ready, and that the nature of politics can be rough and tumble and downright dirty, but I am confident if we keep it on the issues and the future success of our area, it will work out in the end,” Theriault said.