Thousands of race car drivers compete at hundreds of race tracks throughout North America each year. From the dirt to the pavement, drivers throughout the continent strive to be the best in their discipline of racing.
Each year, Speed51.com takes the best drivers from each discipline and matches them against each other in the annual 51 Awards to determine the overall Short Track Driver of the Year. In 2017, 20 drivers were nominated for the category with nearly 300 wins represented between them.
After two weeks of voting, the votes have been tallied and it is now time to reveal the 2017 Short Track Driver of the Year, as voted on by race fans worldwide.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
(Short Track Driver of the Year)
In the extremely difficult sport of stock car racing, second chances don’t often arise. This driver received his second chance in 2017 and made the most of the opportunity.
Although he didn’t win the most races among our nominees, this driver’s accomplishments were just as impressive – if not more impressive – than any other driver’s.
During the 2017 ARCA Racing Series season-ending banquet in Indianapolis, this driver was called to the stage as though his name was on repeat. He won nearly everything there was to win, including the championship.
If you haven’t caught on by now, we’re talking about Austin Theriault, the winner of the 51 Award for 2017 Short Track Driver of the Year.
“Being recognized in this way (the award) is really special,” Theriault told Speed51.com. “The short tracks were some of the most exciting races for us last year. From the dirt track at DuQuoin to the nail biter finish with Christian Eckes at Elko, this is where we established ourselves as a championship-contending team.”
Theriault won seven races last season driving for car owner Ken Schrader, but the way he won those races and the races he won is what makes his season most impressive.
The driver from Fort Kent, ME made history by becoming the first driver in the 65-year history of the ARCA Racing Series to win on all track types and all disciplines in a single season.
Theriault won on the dirt at Du Quoin (IL), the road course at Road America (WI), the superspeedways of Daytona (FL) and Michigan, and the paved short tracks of Elko (MN), Salem (IN) and Madison (WI).
In addition to capturing the 2017 ARCA championship, Theriault was also crowned the Bill France 4 Crown Champion for his combined performance at Nashville (TN), Pocono (PA), Road America (WI) and the Illinois State Fairgrounds. He also won the 2017 Sioux Chief Short Track Championship for his performance on the short tracks.
Overall, the 2017 season was a big turnaround for a driver who didn’t know if he’d get another chance at the national level.
“Second chances don’t come often in racing. After a tough end to 2015 and my injury in Vegas, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have the opportunity to race on a national stage again,” Theriault said. “I’m always going to look back on 2017 and smile because I know what Kenny (Schrader), the team and I were able to accomplish. We worked so efficiently with a budget less than some others on the series and showed people that through old fashioned hard work, studying the game and nailing the basics, you can be successful.
“I’m thankful for the owners that have given me a chance along the way, my fans for their unwavering loyalty and the team members that have trusted me and given me vehicles capable of winning races.”
Finishing second in the voting for Short Track Driver of the Year was “Big Money” Matt Hirschman, who won 18 races in 2017. Hirschman was the 2017 Tri-Track Open Modified Series champion, sweeping the four big-money races that the series hosted last season.
2017 Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard earned enough votes to finish third after recording an unbelievable 41 wins during the season. DIRTcar UMP Modified ace Mike Harrison finished fourth in the voting, with Super Late Model ace Bubba Pollard completing the top five.
Former Driver of the Year Award Winners
2016 – Ty Majeski
2015 – Ty Majeski
2014 – Bubba Pollard
2013 – Matt Hirschman
2012 – Daniel Hemric
2011 – Bubba Pollard
2010 – Chase Elliott
2009 – Bubba Pollard
2008 – No Vote
2007 – Joey Logano
2006 – No Vote
2005 – Mike Rowe
2004 – Ted Christopher
-Text by Speed51.com Staff
-Photo credit: Austin Theriault Racing