By: Don Radebaugh, ARCA Racing
Ken Schrader Racing's Austin Theriault had some interesting takeaways when he marched out the back gate at Daytona Int'l Speedway following last weekend's open test.
With an eye on the tour's marquee event at Daytona coming in February, Theriault's already zeroed in on the bigger picture.
"We all felt really good after the test, but the most important part....the biggest takeaway for me is appreciating the new team I'm a part of and having an opportunity to run for the championship," said Theriault.
"I understand that the immediate thing in front of us is Daytona, and this team is capable of running good at Daytona, but everywhere else too."
Theriault, 22, also appreciates the experience level he has around him.
"Having speed at Daytona is important, but the bigger thing is the experience level we all bring. There's a lot of experience at Ken Schrader Racing and I'm not going to lose sight of that. The guys on the crew, myself, Donnie (Richeson/crew chief), Kenny (Schrader)...we're all in this together. We all bring certain strengths, and we can pull together on those strengths and use it to the benefit of all."
If Theriault likes what he sees in the experience around him. the feeling is mutual.
"We've only had one test together, but his feedback is incredible," said team Crew Chief Donnie Richeson.
"He's got a real good feel and real good understanding of his surroundings. You can tell he never stops thinking and always thinking way ahead. He understands what he needs to do, but he understands what the guys around him need to do. He would come on the radio and say to 'tell that guy up front that he needs to hold the line tighter.' It's that sort of thing...he's always driving six cars up. I'm impressed with how aware he is of his surroundings and the way he pays attention to the other cars around him. We're all very impressed, and excited."
Theriault also understands his good fortune of having Schrader hanging around.
"Kenny knows what it's like to compete at the highest level...he's got balance," Theriault said. "When you're talking with him, it's just like talking to anyone...he's so approachable. He displays a lot of leadership qualities that attracts people. He knows how to get the best out of people.
"Kenny made a comment...he said, 'If I was ever racing in ARCA, the only guy I'd want as crew chief is Donnie.' Hearing that really came across well to me...made me feel confident. He's (Richeson) obviously got a lot of experience working with different drivers, both young and old. I want him to feel free to challenge me. I want his continual input so I can be a better driver. And I made it clear to him, that I'm going to do my best and that I'll speak up too. All egos aside...we're all in this together."
Theriault also knows he'll be seeing a lot of tracks for the first time this year.
"There are several tracks that ARCA goes to that I haven't been to yet. That's where the experience of the team can pay big dividends, but it's also about adaptability...this team's very adaptable. I feel like my experience the past couple years will help our program...not to say we won't struggle to hit the set-up in certain places...but it's going to be very helpful to draw off all the experience that's here.
"There are a lot of tracks I'm going to have to figure out in practice, and do my homework before I get there. But being around all this experience is going to help me figure it out faster. Drawing on the experience can speed up the process. I know it's going to be difficult, but everyone here brings something that can make us stronger and compete all year.
"It's going to be exceptionally challenging. There are a lot great drivers and great teams in ARCA...probably the strongest season coming up in a while."
And, Theriault has never turned a lap on a dirt track.
"No...never have, so that'll be something we have to overcome. I'm going to have to sit down with Kenny before those races and learn how I can speed up my learning process. He'll be racing in a lot of dirt races like he always does...maybe I'll go out with Kenny to some of those races and try and learn as much as I can."
All that said, the experience at Ken Schrader Racing adds up to confidence for Theriault.
"I'm beaming with confidence. When we go back (to Daytona) I really feel good about the communication between us. I can count on one hand the times I've felt this confident going into the season ahead."
Theriault has one ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards win at Michigan Int'l Speedway in 2014.
View original post at the ARCA Racing website.