Austin Theriault made his first ever Late Model start at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) in 2009 at the age of 15. Since then his journey has taken him to some of the highest levels of NASCAR competition at race tracks throughout the United States. Seven years after his first start at Oxford, Theriault has embarked on a project that will lead him back to the historic 3/8-mile oval for the track’s most prestigious race, the Oxford 250.
In between working with Brad Keselowski Racing at the team’s shop in North Carolina and at race tracks throughout the country, Theriault started his own project of building a new Super Late Model. He started the project without a timetable for completion and the mindset of not letting the project interfere with his goals of competing in the big leagues of NASCAR or his current NASCAR K&N Pro Series schedule with Hattori Racing Enterprises.
When the Fort Kent, Maine native saw the new car nearing its completion and the 43rd annual Oxford 250 approaching, he decided it was time to make a trip back home for the most prestigious short track race in the Northeast.
“I didn’t even really have a date or target date because we’ve been focused on everything else,” Theriault told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “My idea from the beginning when I switched over to Super Lates was to only race when it didn’t take away from, not my bigger aspirations, but what I’ve been focused on the past couple years.
“It’s been a fun project. Hopefully the outcome is good and we have fun at the same time and finally get that trophy we’ve been trying to get the past couple years.”
Theriault’s name first appeared on the entry list for the $25,000-to-win race last week. Since making the decision to enter the race, sleep has been hard to come by as he and his team prepare the No. 57 for one of toughest short track races in North America.
“We’ve been really working hard the past couple weeks,” Theriault said. “I don’t think I’ve gone to bed before midnight. Last night (Sunday) was a morning affair, by the time I got home it was almost time to get up.
“We’re not behind the eight ball but we definitely had to try to work a little bit harder to try to meet this deadline. At the end of the day when the car is done the car is done, it doesn’t matter if it’s taken you a couple months or a year to prepare for it.”
Theriault will bring a crew to the race track this weekend that consists of volunteer crew members from his home state of Maine and crew members that work on race cars for a living. The combination is unique, but it is one that Theriault thinks will work and allow everyone involved to learn.
“I’ve got a mix of guys that I’ve worked with before, some of them I’ve never worked with before but come highly recommended from people I have worked with before,” he explained. “I think it’s going to be a solid group, a couple from Maine and a couple from down here. I think we’re all going to work really well together. It’s going to be interesting for some of the guys that used to be on the crew to work with other guys that have been doing it as their full-time job.”
In four career starts in the Oxford 250, Theriault has recorded four top-five finishes including a runner-up effort in 2014. He didn’t compete in last year’s race due to scheduling conflicts, but he’s eager to get back to Oxford and chase the top prize that he’s come so close to capturing previously.
“It’s a bucket list race. I feel like it would definitely be one of the biggest and most exciting, not only for myself but for the people that are with us,” Theriault stated. “Maybe it’s because we’ve come so close the past couple years that I think it makes us want to work that much harder. The only answer to that question is that it’d be really exciting (to win).”
Despite how much he wants to win the Oxford 250 on Sunday afternoon, Theriault admitted that he doesn’t approach the race differently than any other race. Whether it’s a 50-lap race or a 250-lap race with a big paycheck on the line, he just wants to win.
“I try not to put too much stock in big races. I don’t get anything more because it’s the Oxford 250, but what I do take away from it is that it’s another chance to run against the best in the country and get better,” he said. “That may be a PASS race at Hickory or a Truck race at Loudon or a K&N race at Greenville, a win is a win. That’s what I think. There’s a lot of history at the 250 and it’d be really cool to get your name on the trophy but at the end of the day I don’t feel good approaching races any differently because they have more at stake.”
After putting the finishing touches on his project car early this week, Theriault will make the trip from North Carolina to the Pine Tree State. He will be greeted by a devoted group of supporters at a race track the helped define the early stages of his racing career.
“When I go back there I feel like it’s one of the best tracks that I have experience with over the past five or six years having constant success. I seem to have the track figured out or we consistently have good cars there.
“I definitely feel like it has a place in my book as being somewhere I’ll always remember.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com