Growing up in the small town of Fort Kent, Maine, Austin Theriault didn’t grow up in the most ideal geographical location for an up-and-coming stock car driver hoping to one day compete in one of NASCAR’s top-three series.
Fort Kent, which has a population of roughly 4,100 residents, is closer in distance to the Canadian border than the Maine State House in Augusta. If you were to travel by car, the distance to “The Hub” of NASCAR racing, Charlotte, North Carolina, is nearly 1300 miles away from Theriault’s hometown. When announcers of different touring series would announce his name it would commence with, “All the way from Fort Kent, Maine”.
Despite having the odds stacked up against him coming from “the backwoods” of Maine, Theriault has made his life-long dream become a reality. Announced on Tuesday's "The Dale JR Download" show on Dirty Mo Radio, Theriault has reached a deal with JR Motorsports to drive the No. 5 NASCAR Nationwide Series car in select events during the 2014 season.
“It’s the next step for me,” Theriault told Speed51.com. "I’ve been very fortunate for not only the people I’ve surrounded myself with but obviously fans, friends and family. It’s been a really exciting journey up to this point.
“We’re just progressing forward and I’m really excited to be affiliated with JR Motorsports and everything that encompasses the team. The Hendrick connection, the Junior connection, Kelley and L.W. Miller. You're surrounded be so many knowledgeable people and it’s like a family atmosphere, too.”
At this time, Theriault has plans to race the JR Motorsports No. 5 at Iowa Speedway (May), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July), and Kentucky Speedway (September). If everything goes as planned, he hopes to have the chance to do more with the organization in the future.
“I’m always hopeful that current opportunities like this will lead to other things,” Theriault said. “Because it’s such a great organization with such great people, I’m really excited about what the future may hold.”
The 20-year-old from Fort Kent began his racing career in 2007 at Spud Speedway in Caribou, Maine racing four-cylinder cars. Although the geographical location may not be ideal for an aspiring NASCAR driver, Theriault believes racing at Spud Speedway and growing up in a tight-knit community has helped him value relationships that have led him to the opportunity he has been presented with.
“Everybody has a unique journey and I’m no exception to that,” Theriault said. “It’s a geographically remote location, but it’s that location that has gotten me to this point. It’s kind of like a paradox. It’s a paradox in that it presented, and still kind of does present, some challenges. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me that otherwise might not have happened.
“It’s made me value any opportunities big or small. Everybody tries to capitalize on opportunities, but it’s definitely given me a unique perspective on trying to be a successful person and value the people around you.”
After starting his racing career in the Young Guns division at Spud Speedway, Theriault quickly progressed to the Late Model division in 2009 where he won the Spud 150 Late Model event in his first career Late Model start.
From that moment on, Maine race fans had their eyes on Theriault as they followed his journey from Spud Speedway to the American-Canadian Tour to the Pro All Star Series to the Snowball Derby and beyond.
That support from his family, friends, and fans is what kept life-long dreams alive for Theriault as he traveled to the southern parts of the country in 2012 to race a Super Late Model for Brad Keselowski Racing.
“That’s why I always refer back to the, family, friends and fans I have supporting me because they have gotten me to this point,” Theriault said. “The support from all the people I’ve worked with, the support from my parents and family, and the support from all the fans. All of it has been amazing and I can’t thank everyone enough for the support that has made all of this possible.”
After racing the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Super Late Model for nearly two full seasons, Theriault was told that BKR would be moving away from their Super Late Model program at the end of the 2013 racing season to focus on their truck program. Theriault continued his job working in the shop at BKR, but the organization’s decision to drop their Super Late Model program left Theriault without a ride to begin the 2014 season.
“I appreciate everyone at Brad Keselowski Racing for all the things they did to help me with my career,” Theriault said. “Brad (Keselowski), Gary (Crooks), and all the guys in the shop that worked with me and helped me along the way. I still remain in contact with all of them and wish them the best moving forward.”
Although he knew he was not in a position to waste time during a valuable point in his racing career, he wanted to make sure his next decision was the right decision. Other good offers in different touring series were presented to the 20-year-old driver, but he remained patient waiting for the right offer to present itself.
“You don't like to turn away any opportunity in racing because those opportunities don’t come around very often,” Theriault told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “At the same time, you’re always waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still a lot I have to learn. I still have to gain experience and grow as a racecar driver. I felt that eventually the right opportunity was going to come. I’m not going to say this is it and it’s going to be easy from here on out because it’s not. This is a great opportunity that I believe no driver in my shoes would be able to turn down.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and JR Motorsports President/Co-Owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is excited about Theriault joining the team and looks forward to his first race at Iowa.
"I think he can run in the top-10. Top-five is certainly a possibility," Earnhardt, Jr. said on Dirty Mo Radio about his expectations for Theriault at Iowa. "The car is good and I think the kid has a lot of talent. He's had a lot of great finishes in the lower ranks with the Super Late Models and such. He's got a pretty decent resume and I think he's going to be excited.
"It's not a big track and not a challenging track as far as size goes. It's kind of slick and he's ran the Snowball Derby a few times and finished third. That's a very similar surface to Iowa so he should feel right at home on the race track."
Theriault is hoping to gain valuable experience behind-the-wheel with JR Motorsports this season during his three Nationwide Series starts. Like any driver, he’d like to be pulling into victory lane at the conclusion all three races but it’s the experience and potential to move forward with a great organization that has the Fort Kent native excited.
“I know we’re capable of running up front,” Theriault said. It’s just going to be about logging laps, gaining experience, and gaining respect.
“It’s about making the best out of this great opportunity because you never know when opportunities like this may come around because they don’t come around very often.”