The state of Maine, private businesses and a rising NASCAR driver from Fort Kent will unveil a marketing partnership Friday that will transform the young racer’s car into a high-speed billboard for Maine, one partially funded by taxpayers.

Austin Theriault, 20, will drive a Maine-branded car in front of a national television audience in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race Sept. 20, said Peter DelGreco, director of Maine & Company, a co-sponsor.

DelGreco’s nonprofit provides consulting services to out-of-state businesses looking to relocate to or expand in Maine, and he saw an opportunity to try something different by hooking up with NASCAR and a home-grown driver.

“You see Go-Daddy, you see Coca-Cola, and the idea of having something that says ‘Maine’ on it struck me as unique,” he said.

The state will kick in at least $15,000 in taxpayer money from Gov. Paul LePage’s contingency account, in addition to other government funds, according to records obtained by the Portland Press Herald. The car is being billed as the “Maine Open for Business Chevrolet,” referring to the marketing slogan introduced by LePage, and will have the name “Maine” featured prominently on the hood. Other sponsors include Bangor Savings Bank, software company Kepware and Colby Company Engineering.

Although the paint scheme will run for only one race, the replica “Maine car” that Theriault is unveiling will likely stay in the state and travel to other public events as a marketing prop, including a stop in Bangor on Friday at Bangor Savings Bank.


LePage’s office has been reluctant to release details about the partnership, saying only that more will be revealed during the event.

Although no state has sponsored a car, public spending on racing sponsorship has been attempted before, sometimes with dubious results. In 2012, Virginia paid to rename a race in Richmond as the “Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is For Lovers,” the state’s marketing slogan.

At the federal level, the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard all have sponsored racing teams at one time or another, but have dropped the programs because they are costly and of questionable effectiveness in spurring new recruitment.

Next year, the National Guard, which has sponsored a NASCAR and Indy Car team for years, will end its investment in the sport. In May, USA Today reported that despite a $26.5 million sponsorship of a NASCAR team in 2012, not a single person was successfully recruited as a result of the sponsorship that year.

The governor and his co-sponsors Friday are likely to bill the public-private sponsorship as a way to promote Maine as a business-friendly destination for growing companies.

For Theriault and other young, talented drivers like him, sponsorship continues to be a golden ticket in the astronomically expensive sport. DelGreco, at Maine & Company, said Theriault helped develop the partnership and sought ways to incorporate promotion of Maine into his career aspirations.


“The only way a driver can control their destiny is to attract sponsors,” said Alex Whitman, owner of Motorsports Solutions, a Houston-based motorsports marketing consultancy. “In this economy, which is the new norm, funding is paramount to talent. And it’s harder to find sponsorship than it is to find talent.”

Theriault, who could not be reached for comment, was signed in April to drive three races for the high-profile JR Motorsports team co-owned by NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Although it is unclear what Theriault’s car will look like, little room is wasted on the vehicles’ body panels. From fenders and bumpers to the patches on a driver’s fire suit to the name of a race itself, every aspect of racing is a marketing opportunity.

Similarly, until Election Day in November, no event featuring the governor is free from political scrutiny, and LePage, who ran four years ago as a financial reformer and continues to tout his economic record as governor, already has hit on notes familiar to his campaign rhetoric.

“Our goal all along has been to make our state more competitive for private investment and job creation and we have already seen tremendous results,” LePage said in a statement Thursday. “Those efforts are continuing, and we are very pleased to now be partnering with Austin Theriault to help steer us to even greater prosperity and help make Maine the ultimate engine for economic development.”

David Farmer, a senior adviser to the campaign of gubernatorial opponent and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, congratulated Theriault for his growing success, but attacked LePage’s involvement as an election-year ploy that uses taxpayer dollars to harness the popularity of NASCAR to connect with voters.


“I think it is very clear that this is more about Gov. LePage’s re-election than it is about the state of Maine,” Farmer said. “He can wear a ball cap in his ad and he can sponsor a race car, but that’s not going to change four years of his policies and four years of his hateful rhetoric.”

Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for independent candidate Eliot Cutler, lauded the young driver, but did not address any possible political gamesmanship behind the event.

“We wish Austin Theriault the very best and are pleased to see the number of companies who are supporting this young man from Fort Kent,” Canney said in a written statement. “It’s great anytime positive national attention highlights Maine.”

Theriault already has driven in two Nationwide races, in May and July, placing 15th and 20th, respectively. In July, Theriault placed second in the TD Bank Oxford 250.

His final Nationwide appearance will be Sept. 20 in Kentucky for the 300, where the Maine-themed car will make its professional debut.

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