Almost as soon as Austin Theriault’s Ford F-150 smashed into an unprotected stretch of concrete wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a new wave of calls started for NASCAR to increase the pace of installing protective padding at its race tracks.

That was the national takeaway from the high-speed wreck.

For Theriault, the impact was far more personal.

The Fort Kent native has been sidelined since the Oct. 3 crash, initially having to wear a back brace after suffering a 10 percent compression of two vertebrae. The injury has halted – at least temporarily – the career progression for the 21-year-old Theriault, in his first year as a part-time driver for Brad Keselowski Racing,

Theriault and Jeremy Thompson, BKR’s general manager, both said they expect Theriault will be able to drive again on the Camping World Truck Series before the season ends Nov. 20.

“If it was worse, it could have been career-ending,” Theriault said Friday. “That’s just an inconvenient truth and I’m very fortunate that it wasn’t to the point where I had to wrap it up and hang up my firesuit.


Theriault was supposed to have had an uninterrupted stretch of eight straight starts for BKR. The plan was to rack up several top-10 finishes, maybe contend for a win, and prove he was ready to move up the NASCAR ladder.

“For somebody who isn’t hired to race in 2016, or doesn’t have a four-year contract with a Cup team, it may be a little more difficult,” Theriault said. “That’s always in the back of your mind, that someone could replace you if you can’t respond quickly.”

BKR will be cautious with Theriault before he gets back behind the wheel.

“Everyone recognizes that the health of the athletes is what’s most important in these situations,” Thompson said. “We’re very much in support of that, especially with young drivers like Austin. He’s going to be around for a long time and we feel he’s going to be a star, and we don’t want to sacrifice any of his long-term health just to get him in a race sooner.”

In eight starts in the No. 29 truck, Theriault had four top-10 finishes, including two top-fives. He finished fourth in his debut back in February at Daytona International Speedway and was coming off a solid eighth-place run at New Hampshire.

At Las Vegas, Theriault was exiting turn four early in the race when his BKR teammate, Tyler Reddick, who had gotten loose and brushed the wall in the turn, slid down the track. Reddick’s truck banged into the right side of Theriault’s ride. Theriault’s truck turned toward the top of the track and smashed hard enough into the wall that it lifted all four tires off the track. When the truck landed, its right-side tires were bent so much they no longer touched the asphalt and the vehicle skated down the length of the 1.5-mile track, setting a trail of sparks.


“I’ve seen the video. I saw it that night,” Theriault said. “The real-time period between when I was turned and when I hit the wall was short but in the truck it seemed a little longer. I wasn’t thinking about much but I knew I was going to hit it really hard.”

By the time Theriault was lifted into a track ambulance on a backboard to be airlifted to a hospital, several Twitter posts called for increased use of Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers along every wall.

Soon well-known drivers like Keselowski and Kyle Busch were joining in with similar statements, stating it was time for NASCAR to make sure all concrete walls are padded. Busch was injured in a February XFinity Series race when his car found an unprotected area of concrete wall nearly head on.

Theriault’s truck hit the wall just after a stretch of SAFER barrier in the turn ended.

“As a sport, everyone pulls together,” Theriault said. “Kyle’s been vocal about what I went through and I think as a sport no one is turning a blind eye to what needs to be done.”

Since the wreck, Theriault said his recovery has been steady. Now he is only wearing the back brace “when I feel the need to, like if I’m going to be moving a lot or possibly getting pushed around in a crowd.”


Theriault said when he returns to racing will depend on “a whole mix of factors,” including medical clearance and “just plain how I feel. I’ll probably have to work through some discomfort at first.”

When Theriault does get back in a race vehicle, he believes he will be able to quickly get past any nerves or anxiety left from the crash – in part because as a racer he’s already come to grips with the sport’s inherent dangers.

“To get to this level it’s something you’ve already been able to overcome to a certain extent,” he said.

He does recognize that others will be judging him in his return. In that sense, the wreck provides an opportunity, Theriault said.

“Whenever you’re having to face adversity, people want to know how is that going to affect you,” Theriault said. “There’s no doubt it is going to affect you but the question is, ‘Can you overcome it and be successful?’ ”


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