Fort Kent native Austin Theriault has a lot on his plate these days.

After running part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series the past two years, he’s driving full-time for Hattori Racing Enterprises in 2016 chasing a championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Yet despite the demands of his job, the 22-year-old still finds time for others.

One benefactor of that kindness is Lewiston native Patric Racine, who just returned from a two-week visit to the HRE race shop in Mooresville, N.C.

Racine had a chance to observe what takes place at a professional race team as Theriault lays the foundation for a future Internship program.

“I was talking with a new friend recently, and we discussed the fact that not every high school graduate heads off to college to pursue a career,” Theriault said. “There are some who slip through the cracks, and end up in various trades. Those kids need a place to learn and explore their options. I wondered how I might be able to help, and we touched on me developing an internship program down the road.

“I started talking with Patric shortly after that about things he was interested in, and where he wanted to go with his education and career. I had the desire to help, so I invited him down here to get a feel for what we do. There were no expectations, yet he spent some quality time with our team and learned a lot.”

Theriault is aware that many students from his home state are exploring different options as they consider a field of study. He realizes that while most won’t choose a career in auto racing, the chance to spend time with a race team can provide real-life experiences. It may open their eyes to new options.

“Things always start out small, so this is just a start to something I feel has big potential. There are a lot of organizations out there that provide guidance to graduates so they can get a sense of direction. It’s a simple concept, so we’ll work on it and get aligned with the right people. I just want to see it work out.”

Racine made a good impression on Theriault during his visit to North Carolina. He went in with an open mind, prepared to observe and tackle whatever tasks the team assigned to him.

“Patric was very enthusiastic about this opportunity,” Theriault said. “A kid like him has the right mindset and the capacity to go places. He seems very driven, and is willing to do the dirty work at first in order to gain knowledge. With his personality and character, I think he can go anywhere in life.”

For Racine, 17, the time spent at HRE was a real eye-opener. Owned by Japan native and former Indycar driver Shigeaki Hattori, the team is highly respected in the industry. Cherryfield native and four-time NASCAR Busch North Series champion Andy Santerre worked for HRE after leaving the REV Racing organization. 

“I was overwhelmed from the moment I walked into the shop, Racine said. “When I saw several cars and all lined up in various stages of completion and how clean and the entire shop was, it was pretty amazing. The amount of work they put into their race teams, the skills HRE employees have and their dedication to success is very impressive. I wish I could have stayed longer; but I was fortunate to get two weeks with them.

“I’ll be studying in the automotive field when I get to college, no matter where that is. I learned about how UNOH (University of Northwestern Ohio) prepares students for a career in motorsports, and it really piqued my interest. I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given, and can’t thank Austin enough for the invitation.”

Currently fifth in the K&N East Series point standings, Theriault feels like his HRE team is finally starting to hit their stride. After a slow start, they’ve put together a string of solid finishes in the last five races. 

“I did a lot of preparation for my very first road course event, and it paid off when the series went to Virginia International Raceway at the end of April,” Theriault explained. “We came out of there with a third-place finish, which I thought was pretty respectable. We had a top-five run at Dominion Raceway a month later, then earned a second-place finish the last time out at Columbus (Ohio) on July 2.

“We had a lot of ups and downs early in the season. I didn’t know my plans until two weeks before the opener at New Smyrna, so we were behind a little getting cars prepared and assembling a team. After the road course success, we put our heads down and have started posting some good finishes.” 

Theriault finished fifth in the United Site Services 70 this past weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. With the kind of consistency he’s shown in the last month, this opportunity with HRE can propel Theriault forward in the sport. 

“When you put it all into perspective, I ran three Xfinity Series races in 2014, eight truck races with plans to run more last year before I got hurt. I’m running more often this year with HRE, so this really is a step in the right direction. I feel more comfortable in 2016, building on my career as we chase East Series points.”

Overall, the experiences he’s gathered in ACT Late Models, driving in the Truck Series for NASCAR star Brad Keselowski, running those Xfinity Series races for Dale Earnhadrt’s Jr. Motorsports team and now this new ride with Hattori have helped him more than words can describe.

Some might call it “bouncing around,” but Theriault says in the dog-eat-dog world of NASCAR, you seize any chance you get in hopes of learning and making a good impression.

“Having a guy like Shige involved in racing is great for the sport. It brings a lot of international attention and investment. A lot of our marketing partners come from outside the country. They also have subsidiaries in the U.S., which makes it nice. I’m enjoying this new ride, and I’m excited about putting this internship together for down the road. It’something I’m passionate about and hope it pans out.”

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