Austin Theriault, center, chats with his crew in 2013 before the start of the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. Portland Press Herald file photo by Gabe Souza

Austin Theriault’s career is like most things these days, thanks to the global Covid-19 pandemic. It’s on hold.

The Fort Kent native, who finished the 2019 season driving in the NASCAR Cup Series for Rick Ware Racing, was hoping to compete in a schedule of combined Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series events this season. For now, that’s still his goal — though it’s been delayed.

“If the situation were to be different, you’d probably see me racing sooner, but at this point I’m still working on some things that will hopefully come together later in year,” Theriault said. “I’m hoping that will happen and, in the meantime, I’m staying in contact with a lot of the same people I worked with in the past. But people’s business priorities are shifted, company’s marketing priorities are shifted and sponsorship priorities are shifted.

“That’s the short-term consequence of (the pandemic) in all sports.”

Theriault said his focus for this season has been two-fold. While companies value the most bang for their buck at the Cup Series level, even for teams running outside the top 20 each week on NASCAR’s top circuit, the chance to be competitive at the NASCAR Xfinity or Truck Series levels is easier to fund.

That’s why Theriault is looking for a blend.

“Companies love the Cup series,” the 26-year-old said. “But for myself, I like having a chance to be competitive. I think that’s why a combination of the two makes sense for me at this point.”

NASCAR returns to competition this week, with a pair of races at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The Cup series will run a 400-mile race on Sunday afternoon before returning Wednesday night for a 300-mile event.

Both events will be race-only, with limited team participation behind the scenes. There will be no practice or qualifying rounds for teams before the green flag. The lineup is determined by a draw.

Theriault — like everybody in the auto racing world — is keeping his eye on how the events play out.

“NASCAR is going to be pretty cautious, but it’s still the first sport (in the United States) to start their season up,” Theriault said. “We just don’t really yet know the whole business ramifications. We’ll probably start seeing that play out by the end of the year.”

By then, Theriault is hoping he’s back on track.

“I keep reminding myself there are more important things to worry about,” he said. “Sports is an important part of us coming back from what’s happening — and people do want to enjoy NASCAR or whatever sport they like, but we have to respectful of the necessity of how we’re going to get back.

“I still feel positive at the same time. Nobody really knows how all this is going to play out.”

 

• • •

 

John Peters is a stock car racing champion for the second time in his career, even without getting back on a real live race track.

The Westbrook native became the youngest champion in Beech Ridge Motor Speedway history when he won a Thursday Thunder title at the Scarborough track in 2012. On Thursday night, he won the seven-race NEP Busch North Series championship on iRacing.

“The thing that’s nice about it is it gives you an outlet to race with your counterparts you would normally be racing with,” Peters said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how it’s helped me get reps in. I’m not racing that many times, given my current schedule, and this sort of filled that for me.”

iRacing is a popular simulator in which people compete in virtual race cars on virtual tracks. The NEP series was founded by Connecticut racer Cory Casagrande and encouraged drivers to design cars after ones that competed on the now defunct Busch North Series across New England in the 1990s and early 2000s, using current model ARCA cars. The series featured Durham’s Evan Beaulieu, who won the final event of the season, and Ellsworth’s Wyatt Alexander alongside current and former NASCAR national and regional series drivers like Danny O’Quinn Jr., Charles Lewandowski, Spencer Davis and Matt Swanson. Several other Pro All Stars Series and American Canadian Tour drivers also participated.

Peters liked the makeup of the series, which capped itself at 30 drivers per race.

“Everyone there is a serious racer — everyone wants to race hard, race clean. It’s been good at filling that void of something competitive to do that’s racing-related,” Peters said. “You have your guys who will say, ‘It’s just a game. I don’t get worked up over a game.’ I don’t believe that for a second. Racers are too competitive.”

It’s not “real” racing, but it in the midst of a pandemic it served a need for racers.

“Whether it’s as simple as the pressure at the beginning of a race, getting ready for a restart, going through the gears, or getting in rhythm and just turning consistent laps, it’s good for me,” Peters said. “I’ve always felt that way about iRacing. No, it’s not quite the same as the real thing, but it does give you a chance to get back into the feel of it.”

 

• • •

Wiscasset Speedway joins the rest of Maine’s race tracks right now in a holding pattern.

In a video on the speedway’s Facebook page this week, spokesperson Ken Minott said the track’s goal is to return to racing events by the end of the summer.

“We’ve been continually monitoring the daily updates from the governor’s office of the state of Maine and CDC officials and making sure we’re working with the most current and accurate information available while making our decisions,” Minott said.

The track hopes to have modified practice days by the end of June before having live race events at some point during the mid-summer months.

The track has submitted proposals to state government in an effort to reopen alongside Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed four-phase reopening plan for the state of Maine.

“We’ll look to open gradually and safely within the guidelines set by state and federal authorities,” Minott said. “We continue to voice our belief that large, outdoor venues such as Wiscasset Speedway and other race tracks, do, in fact, have the ability to function within these safety guidelines and properly space people and have the protocols in place to keep our fans, staff and drivers all safe.

“We have yet to hear back from the state in regards to those specific proposals.”

Comments are not available on this story.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.