Austin Theirault has posted some big numbers lately in the New England Late Model world. In his latest four events, he placed third in the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME), fifth in the ACT race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, second in the Granite State Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and second in Saturday night's ACT race at Oxford.
It might come as a surprise, after seeing all of these top finishes on his record, but Theirault has still not won an ACT race in his young career. Is the young Mainer getting tired of standing on the podium, but being shut out of being able to climb to its highest level?
“Yes and no…who can complain about a second place finish?” said Theirault. “But we are so close to winning one of these. We'll pull one off sooner or later."
Theirault hails from one of Maine's Northernmost towns - Fort Kent. He finished as the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year honors during the 2010 ACT Late Model season and has moved up to the role of contender this season.
“I'm pretty happy to go in week in and week out and run in the top five. When you are racing for points, that is what you need to do. Other than winning, because when you do that you rack up all kinds of points. But even if you are winning one week and finishing 20th the next week, you aren't really accomplishing what you need to accomplish.”
One thing that you will notice when talking to Theirault is that he uses “we” a lot more than “I” when describing the results of his race team. Some drivers will take credit for a team's successes and switch to using “we” when describing the tough times faced by a team. Theirault isn't one of those drivers. He's very quick to praise those around him for his success.
“We have great guys that help us out each week. Mitch Green from Crazy Horse Racing and Seth [Holbrook]….you just can't ask for better people.”
During his recent hot streak of podium finishes (three in his last four races), Theirault has raced among some tough company. The other drivers who have also filled those podiums have been NASCAR Superstar (and the hottest driver of late in short track racing) Kyle Busch, nine-time Oxford track champion Jeff Taylor, seven-time ACT champion Brian Hoar, former Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT) champion Nick Sweet and former ACT champion, and two-time PASS North race winner, Patrick Laperle.
Racing among such fast company really gives Theirault an accelerated learning curve.
“The thing of it is, they have so much experience that you don't know what they have in their head,” said Theirault. “You don't know if they are saving it or going. If they are going 100% and you should save it or what. They have different strategies that come into play. I have learned a lot in the past couple of races, but there is a lot more that I need to learn.”
Theirault might have a little bit of insight as to what is in Hoar's head though. He spent the first part of the 2011 season as a teammate to Hoar at Rick and Michelle Paya's RPM Motorsports team. Recently, Theirault left that team to rejoin his family's race team, but the time spent at RPM was a very good education for Theirault.
“Every move that he and Rick [Paya] make, there is an outcome that they want to have happen,” said Theirault. “Most times, that works out in their favor so just knowing that and having a champion behind you, you know that he probably has something in his head to beat you. So you just have to drive 100% and not overdo it.”
Despite leaving the RPM team, Theirault still has a high opinion of the operation.
“We have a great relationship with Rick, Brian and the whole team,” stressed Theirault. “We'll continue to have that relationship.”
Performing well with his family's own race team though gives Theirault a little bit of extra pride.
“It is good to know that we pour out our heart and soul and see the results,” said Theirault. “This is the same car from last year. We only have one car now because we sold the other one. We didn't plan on this. We know what we have to do week in and week out. If we screw up, then shame on us. We will go back to the shop and analyze what we did wrong and what we did right and improve on it. We're a little off, but our next stepping-stone is pretty close. We should be able to pull one of these off soon.”
And as he gets closer to victory lane, Theirault is also earning the respect of his fellow drivers - which is something that might be just as important to him as winning.
“Sooner or later, they will give you the same respect that you need. It's not that they don't already, but if I keep running like this, it will get to be more over time.”