The previous four shots Theriault took at the Oxford 250 were undeniably successful, especially for a driver of his age. The 22-year-old has finished in the top five each time. In his first race, at age 17, Theriault finished third. His best showing was in 2014 when he was the runner-up.

“This track’s got a lot of history, and I’ve always taken a liking to it, right from the start,” Theriault said. “It’s been a really good track for us.”

Not so much Sunday. Theriault was involved in a crash in lap 121 that left the back end of his car dangling. He pressed on for a few caution laps before taking a pit stop. His crew finished tearing off his back end, but Theriault didn’t return to the race.

It was the first time in five starts that Theriault wasn’t in the mix at the end.

Theriault said his problems started earlier in the race. He started sixth and remained among the top third of the field but had lost distance to the leaders.

“I think we had a slow leak in the left rear tire and it kept getting looser,” Theriault said. “We wanted to stay out as long as we could, so we had fresher tires at the end of the race. Guys were passing us that had taken tires.”

Theriault holds the distinction as one of three divers in the history of the Oxford 250 to finish in the top four in four consecutive years. The other two are three-time champions Ralph Nason and Mike Rowe.

Theriault has been so close, and although he’s moved on to bigger things down South, the 250 still carries prestige for the Fort Kent native, and it’s still a race he’s eager to conquer.

“It seems like every year we’re so close to getting a win; we just haven’t,” Theriault said. “We’ve finished top five — we got top (four), top three, top two — and it’s been so elusive. It’s just something that you want to cross off on your list, being the champion of the race.”

The car Theriault damaged Sunday was his own, the Austin Theriault Racing No. 57. He recently finished building it, and the Oxford 250 weekend was its first action.

“We never tested or anything. It’s been our first rodeo, and it’s gone well,” Theriault said. “Friday was definitely a learning experience. We had some issues with the motor and carburetor and stuff that we weren’t expecting, but we worked it out.”

He wasted no time showing off what the No. 57 could do. He started fourth in his heat Sunday and quickly moved into second place. Overtaking Kelly Moore took some time — Moore wasn’t giving an inch as Theriault tried to pass him — but Theriault finally made his move and took a lead that continued to grow until he claimed the sixth heat’s checkered flag.

“We were strong in the heat race and strong in practice,” he said. “We don’t know what happened in the race as far as what changed, but we’re thinking it was something with the tire, and you can’t control that stuff.”

Crazy Horse Racing owner Mitch Green said building his own car was another step in Theriault’s evolution as a driver. Green met a teenage Theriault near the beginning of his racing career.

“He’s a student of the sport. He doesn’t just race them, he’s got to understand them,” Green said. “When he first started racing he was in high school, and he didn’t know a lot about race cars, but he was a good racer. And so I told him, ‘If you’re going to be a great racer, you’ve got to learn race cars.’”

So, Green said, Theriault brought his family’s motor home to Green’s shop in South Paris and spent the summer working there.

“He was in there all night, learning everything he could,” Green said. “That, I think, has made him a great racer.”

Theriault will now return to his current headquarters in North Carolina and the proving grounds of the NASCAR’S K&N Pro Series East. The next race is Sept. 5 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.

In his first year with Shigeaki Hattori Racing, Theriault ranks third in the K&N points standings. It’s the latest stop in Theriault’s ever-advancing career. He’s done time in NASCAR Xfinity, Camping World Truck, ARCA and now K&N.

“It seems like everything except (Sprint) Cup,” he said. “But that’s helped me adapt to different track conditions and different cars.”

These experiences have made Theriault a different driver since his last attempt at the Oxford 250 in 2014.

“It’s a constant learning deal,” he said. “Getting more aggressive, learning to take chances, that’s the most important thing.”

The experience has had its down moments, too. A freak accident ended Theriault’s truck season early last fall. His Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Tyler Reddick lost control in the Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early October. As Theriault tried to pass, the two cars made contact, and Theriault’s car crashed head-on into the wall.

Theriault suffered compression fracture in his lower back that he said kept him out of race cars for a month and a half. He said the physical part of his comeback was toughest, but he also had to bounce back mentally.

“Trying to turn the page without forgetting what you went through, but still looking mostly to the future and what’s ahead,” he said. “It’s easy to get reluctant, but you can’t let that get into your mind; you have to stay focused.”

This ended up not being Theriault’s year at Oxford Plains Speedway. As his career continues to progress, his schedule might not always be free the weekend of the track’s most prestigious race.

“It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of everything that goes into it,” he said. “But it’s a cool race. It’s just really disappointing to not come home with a checkered flag.”

[email protected]

More Oxford 250 coverage:


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.