Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault hasn’t run a long-distance auto race since Oct. 14, 2019.
That’s when he was injured in a wreck during the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
“It was the same stuff as Las Vegas: neck, back and shoulder,” Theriault said, referring to a previous injury he sustained in a Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2015.
A now-healthy Theriault, 29, will climb into the No. 45 Derek Ming Ford on Sunday night, looking for his first ever-win at the 50th annual Spencer Group Paving Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway.
He has come close before, finishing second to Morrill’s Travis Benjamin in 2014. That capped a four-year stretch when Theriault posted a pair of third-place finishes in 2011 and 2012 followed by a fourth in 2013.
Theriault is again raising funds through the race for the Travis Mills Foundation, which supports veterans and their families. Travis Mills, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, started the foundation after he became a quadruple amputee as the result of an improvised explosive device during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“I want to win the race and collect a lot of money for the Travis Mills Foundation,” Theriault said.
Those who would like to donate to the foundation can do so through Theriault’s website.
He ran Ming’s race car in the Bessey Motors Super Late Models 50-lap race at Oxford Plains Speedway on July 30 and finished 10th.
“It was a good tune-up for the 250. I was able to knock some of the rust off,” Theriault said. “We were really competitive. There is a lot to build on from that race.”
Bar Harbor Bank and Trust is Theriault’s primary sponsor.
Theriault, a Republican state representative for Maine House District 1, has been involved in driver development for several years. He works with young drivers and helps them improve so they can move up the ladder in racing.
He has also been working with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday who has his own Team Hornaday Development company.
Teenagers Landen Lewis and Hudson Bulger are two of the drivers he has worked with.
Theriault put together an impressive resume as a driver that included five NASCAR Cup Series races, six Xfinity Series races and 13 in the Craftsman Truck Series. He had two top-five and five top-10 finishes in the truck series.
In 2017, he had a remarkable season in the ARCA Menard’s Series as he won the points championship thanks to seven wins and 16 top-five finishes in 20 races.
Theriault feels he has a car capable of winning the race. It is a Dale Shaw Racecars product.
“The main thing is to stay on top of how the track conditions change throughout the weekend,” said Threriault. “We have a good chance to win, but you can never take it for granted. So much can happen in qualifying.”
In a series of qualifying heat races, 68 registered drivers will compete for 43 or 44 starting spots.
The heat races begin at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, and the 250 usually begins around 6:30 p.m.
“The first key is to get in the race, and then you don’t want to go a lap down, especially if you start toward the back. Your pit strategy has to be good, and if all goes well, you are within striking distance in the last 75 laps. That’s all you can ask for,” said Theriault.
The field will be headlined by three-time Oxford 250 winners Travis Benjamin and Mike Rowe, two-time winners Eddie MacDonald and Ben Rowe and one-time victors in Cole Butcher, Cassius Clark, Johnny Clark, Gary Drew, Curtis Gerry, Glen Luce, Scott Robbins, Bubba Pollard and Jeremie Whorff.
Butcher, who is from Hantsport, Nova Scotia, is the defending champ. He was the first Nova Scotian to ever win the race. He was the first Canadian winner since 1995.
Palmyra’s Max Cookson, the points leader in the Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model North division, will also be a serious contender after finishing fifth a year ago in his first 250.