Austin Theriault, the 2017 ARCA Racing Series champion, is heading back to his roots next week at Spud Speedway in Caribou, Maine to compete in the PASS North Series. It’ll be the first time Theriault has been behind the wheel since winning his championship last year at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s been a long time, too long really,” Theriault told Speed51.com. “To be returning home on a holiday like the Fourth of July and being able to see family and friends again but also having a chance to get behind the wheel, it’s a big deal. It’s going to be a really special time.”
Theriault hasn’t seen his home track since 2012, a six-year hiatus that the Maine native is excited to be bringing to an end with his 2018 driving debut.
“It’s not the Daytona 500, but it means a lot to me because it is my home track, it’s where I got my start as a driver,” Theriault said. “It helped me in my career and opened up some doors for me that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, if it wasn’t for Spud Speedway.”
Spud Speedway is returning from its own hiatus; the track hasn’t opened its doors for stock car racing since 2015. Theriault said that the lack of racing around the 1/3 mile is what makes this “Firecracker 200” event so significant.
“It’s sad to see the track closed for a while here the past couple of years,” Theriault said. “For them to open up for this race on such a special occasion, right before the Fourth of July, is huge for the community and huge for the racetrack.”
Good or bad, the lack of a regular racing season at Spud Speedway will ultimately play in Theriault’s favor come Tuesday. Few can compete with the amount of seat time the 24-year-old has accumulated from his earlier days of 4-cylinder and Late Model racing.
“A fair amount of competitors don’t have the experience I have there,” Theriault said. “They don’t have weekly racing and a lot of people are in the same position, never having raced there at all.”
Even with his ARCA championship packing on the pressure to perform, Theriault still isn’t nervous. He thinks that as soon as he hits the track, it’ll be like the back of his hand.
“I feel like I’ll be able to pick up right where I left off,” Theriault said. “Shouldn’t have any issues getting back up to speed. It’s just going to be more exciting than anything else.”
Adding an extra pinch of nostalgia to the mix, Theriault will be competing with a car that has already laid down rubber on Spud Speedway.
“It’s an older car we built back in 2012,” Theriault said. “It’s raced at Spud Speedway before, but as a Late Model, not a Super. It was originally built as an ACT (American Canadian Tour) car but with some pretty basic things—shocks and rims— it was easily converted into a Super Late Model.”
Perhaps appropriately, Theriault’s dubbed his prehistoric machine “T-Rex”, an ode to Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 2429, which helped Jeff Gordon with The Winston in 1997.
“It’s more of an inside joke than anything else,” Theriault said. “T-Rex kind of referring back to a Hendrick car back in the early 2000’s that was banned from the racetrack. NASCAR didn’t want it back because it pushed all the rules.”
Whether or not this “T-Rex” will help land Austin Theriault his first win of the season, remains to be seen. But Theriault said that the prior stats for that machine can do all the talking.
“The results speak for themselves with that car in particular,” Theriault said. “It’s definitely going to be a fun race. Hopefully everything works out in our favor.”
-By: Melissa Strahley, Speed51.com Gulf Coast Editor — Twitter: @MelissaStrahley
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com