Photo Courtesy of Paul Michaud
By: Jessica Potila, Fiddlehead Focus Staff Writer
Austin Theriault fan Joseph Jarrett of Fort Kent said it’s what Theriault does off the track that really impresses him about the race car driver.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders for a young fella,” Jarrett said.
With three first place finishes halfway through the 2017 season, Theriault, a Fort Kent native and driver for Ken Schrader Racing, Inc., currently tops the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) leaderboard with 2,690 championship points.
His local fans are following his progress.
Roger Belanger of Fort Kent subscribes to MAVTV, the automotive and motorsports television channel, on Spectrum in order to watch the 23-year-old Theriault race.
“He’s not a boaster, just a genuine gentleman as far as I’m concerned,” Belanger said of Theriault. “He’s a straight shooter. He gives all the credit to the crew chief.”
Belanger, a retired bus driver, first met Theriault when Theriault was a teenager developing a reputation as a racing ingenue at Spud Speedway in Caribou. The two then ran into one another at NAPA Auto Parts in Fort Kent and Belanger asked the then high-school sophomore for his autograph.
“I shook his hand and I told him, ‘I know you’re gonna make it something big as a race car driver, because you’re a Theriault,’” Belanger said.
Belanger grew up down the road from the Theriault family, and said Austin Theriault’s great-grandfather Hampey Theriault instilled a strong-work ethic in his children, one of whom is Austin’s grandfather, Richard Theriault.
“He was one of the greatest workers around here,” Belanger said of Hampey Theriault.
Richard Theriault and his wife Betty travel to all of Austin’s races, along with Austin’s parents, Steve and Terry Theriault, according to Belanger,
“He’s got the support of some of the best human beings around here,” Belanger said. “He’s responsible because of his bloodline.”
Austin Theriault, who once visited Belanger and gifted him with an autographed jacket, said he appreciates his local fans.
“It’s an honor,” Theriault said. “A lot of people have been with me from the start.”
Educator and Maine School Administrative District No. 27 administrator Paul Michaud first met Theriault when the racer was a seventh-grade student in the district.
“He stood out as one of those kids who’s very focused. He was a very good kid in school and when he sets his sight on something he sees it through,” Michaud said. “He’s very kind, very friendly — that’s what’s drawing people to him, that along with his reputation that this kid can drive a car.”
Michaud and his wife Nora traveled to visit his brother John in February in Florida where the trio went to the track and watched Theriault take first place in the ARCA season opener at Daytona International Raceway.
“I’ve been following his career through his aspirations of racing,” Michaud said. “It’s almost like words cannot express how exciting it is to see this little kid from Fort Kent I knew growing up make it in racing.”
Theriault’s fans have stuck by him through the ups and downs of his young career, including his stretch as a NASCAR driver and a head-on crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2015 that left Theriault with a fractured back.
“We watched the crash; I about got a heart attack,” Belanger said. “ But he survived it and got back on the racetrack when a lot of people would have said ‘to hell with this.’”
Theriault said he would love to win the ARCA Championship this year, but finds value in the hard times as well.
“As long as you’re making the best out of each opportunity it means success, no matter if you win or lose,” Theriault said. “It’s most important sometimes to experience failure, because it gives you a good perspective.”
Belanger has faith his racing hero will continue to rise to the top.
“One of these days, he’s gonna be tapped again for NASCAR — it won’t be long,” Belanger said.
National headlines this season do not disagree with Belanger’s prediction, including an Autoweek article which proclaimed, ‘Theriault has re-emerged as a top NASCAR prospect.’
A political history buff, Theriault said he enjoys visiting presidential libraries when his racing travels bring him within the vicinity of one. He also returns to Fort Kent when he can find the time, and was home most recently to celebrate Mother’s Day with his family.
Theriault’s next race is the ARCA 200 on July 21 in Indianapolis, and there is no doubt his local fans will be cheering him toward victory.
“It’s not common that a kid from The County goes big time in racing and he set his sights on that and here he is today,” Michaud said. “We can’t say that it’s not possible because it is; with a kid like Austin’s determination anything’s possible.”
To view Austin Theriault’s race schedule or to learn more about the racer, visit his website at: http://austintheriault.com/
To follow the ARCA leaderboard, visit online: https://www.arcaracing.com/