WEST GARDINER — With all due respect to 67-year-old Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member Mike Rowe, who won again in Beech Ridge Motor Speedway’s premier division, the future of stock car racing in the state was on display last weekend at area race tracks.

While Hayden Norris of West Gardiner was winning his fourth straight New England 4-Cylinder Pro Stock feature to open the season at Wiscasset Speedway, Gray’s Austin Teras captured his first Super Late Model win at historic Oxford Plains Speedway.

Both drivers are just 15 years old, and both come from diverse motorsports backgrounds.

“It’s been pretty surprising, from the beginning of last season and the way we ended, it was all pretty rough,” Norris said. “To come into this season and be as strong as we are, it feels pretty good.”

Teras, too, admitted he’s ahead of where he thought he’d be in his first full season in a full-sized car.

“I never thought I would win in my first year,” said Teras, who is the son of longtime car owner Jay Cushman, owner of Cushman Competition. “It feels great. Way back the (NASCAR Xfinity Series) raced there (at Oxford), there were a lot of big names from the 1990s and 2000s. My dad had a car that raced there, the (Pro All Stars Series) guys from all around here, and to add my name to that list feels great.”

After a season littered with more valleys than peaks in 2017, Norris won on opening day at Wiscasset Speedway — his first win at the track — and hasn’t slowed since.

The son of Gary Norris Jr., who raced at Wiscasset and Unity Raceway as well as on the defunct PASS Outlaw Series during his own career, Hayden Norris began his racing career not on ovals but on motocross courses as a five-year-old. That turned the Gardiner Area High School freshman onto speed, which eventually blossomed into a passion for stock cars.

“When I was about 3 years old, I started helping my dad out with his car. One of my most memorable moments, I was in the pits and they found me sleeping in my father’s race suit on the trailer floor. I think I was still in diapers at that point,” Norris said. “I always had a headset because I liked to listen (during the races). I don’t remember what was happening, but I came over the radio and told Dad, ‘Just dump him!'”

Ironically, Norris said he’s learned patience in his own racing career.

“I’ve learned a lot of patience since last season,” Norris said. “I’ve paid more attention to how others are racing, waiting for them to make mistakes and not making my own first.”

Staff photo by Joe Phelan Legends cars driven by Casey Call, left, Noah Korner, center, and Austin Teras race at Wiscasset Speedway earlier this season. Teras won the Super Late Model feature at Oxford Plains Speedway last weekend.

Teras started out his career in go-karts, on asphalt and on dirt, racing as far south as Daytona Beach, Florida, during his elementary school days. More recently, he’s focused on Legend cars, even making the trip last year to Las Vegas for the Legend cars’ World Finals.

The sophomore at Gray-New Gloucester High School is a multi-time race winner at Oxford in Legends, where he also has a track championship in that division. Those cars, however, are not Super Late Models — the top weekly division at Beech Ridge, Oxford Plains and Wiscasset.

“The Legends are pretty difficult to drive. They have no tire and a lot of horsepower,” Teras said. “They’re similar to the Super Late Model on old tires, like at the end of a PASS race, but a Super Late Model on fresh tires is a lot more relaxed and laid-back.

“It’s just going on a lot faster around you.”

So far, so good. Teras is certainly keeping pace with the rest of Oxford’s drivers.

To earn his first win, he beat 2002 Oxford 250 victor Scott Robbins and four-time track champion Tim Brackett to the checkered flag.

Teras has grown up working on race cars in his father’s shop, and he thinks that’s helped him accelerate his learning curve.

“I know that being in the shop working on the race cars every day, you don’t just go out on the race track and go to the crew chief and say, ‘Hey, it doesn’t turn. Can you fix it?'” Teras said. “We talk about it, we discuss changes and we all have our own opinions. We compromise and we go from there.”

Judging from the start of the 2018 season, the youth movement will be going forward from here on out.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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