Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Austin Theriault Snags ARCA DuQuoin Win

Austin Theriault has won on all types of tracks this year
For the second straight race, Austin Theriault emerged from some late race carnage to snag an ARCA Racing Series win - his fifth on the season. Not only was it the second race in a row where he emerged from on top from his wrecking competitors, but it was the second straight weekend where craziness at the end resulted in a cherry picked victory for the Kenny Schrader Racing pilot. On a hot but breezy southern Illinois day, Theriault pounced on the lead at the last restart of the second attempt at a green-white-checker finish and managed to hold off the rest of the pack. for two laps to the flag. From what I have seen of him this season, Austin has an amazing knack for biding his time, keeping his equipment in good shape and then taking advantage of late race situations to grab wins even when it may seem unlikely like he did at Road America last weekend. It's also very cool for me to see him have so much success on his comeback trail as the first race I shot for ARCA as their sole photographer was Austin's first ARCA race ever and he won it! By all rights, Austin should be a Cup series driver by now if he hadn't been injured.

There's only one way to get closer than this: be in the car
Photographing the ARCA dirt track races is a special challenge, mainly because the schedule is so abbreviated. We had a little more time at DuQuoin than we did at Springfield, but not much. Since the series practices, qualifies and races all on one day, it's a crush of activity from the first moments the teams get set up. The day starts before sunrise at both tracks so I make it a personal creative mission to find some interesting sunrise photos to set the scene. The series never uses any of those photos since they tend to be on the artsy side, but I take them anyway since the early start to the day is part of the race event story. I got up before 4:30 and was at the track before 6:00 Monday morning to make the officials meeting and I didn't stop working until after 6:00 that evening when I was finished with my editing and file storage of the days images.

The pre-dawn light  over the lake at Duquoin was gorgeous this year
DuQuoin has another interesting feature: it is a mile dirt track similar to Springfield but it has a lake in the middle. It appears that the lake was dug in order to get clay for the race track surface as the corners do have a slight banking and the front and back straightaways drain to the infield. I don't know the whole history of the facility so I am speculating on the reason for the lake, but I'm sure that drainage is a part of it. I spent 30 years in site construction so that part of the facility seemed obvious to me. With the lake inside the track, teams and the ARCA officials actually have not garage area except the grass infield between Turns 3 and 4 and the lake. It's quite a unique setup and I've never been to another track like it. During the race, teams pit along a narrow access road that parallels the front stretch; their pit boxes and other equipment are adjacent to this road and back right up to the lake, with no more than 10 or 12 feet of grass between the road and the water in some places.

The "garage area" viewed from the flagstand
Another thing I like about DuQuoin is the visibility. At Springfield, the concert stage is in the infield and teams must navigate around it to pit. Not so at DuQuoin since the stage is outside the track adjacent to the main grandstands which make visibility of the whole racetrack possible from just about every seat which I'm sure is very nice for the fans. One side effect of this layout is the start-finish line is almost at the end of the main straight since the flagstand is mounted on a support post for the stage and grandstand roof.

Ageless wonder Kenny Schrader is a true racer
My first visit to DuQuoin was in 1990 or 1991 when I traveled with three other photographers to shoot the USAC Silver Crown race for the Indianapolis Star. I remember it being very rainy and track activity was delayed quite a bit. I also remember all the mud adjacent to the inside guardrails as the track preparation consisted mainly of using a road grader to scrape off the top several inches of track surface and push it under the guardrail. What a mess! I also remember that Tony Stewart, George "Ziggy" Snider and Johnny Parsons, Jr., were racing that day. Ironically, Tony was racing this weekend at DuQuoin again, but in a UMP Modified car owned by Kenny Schrader! I was so busy I never got to see Tony or get any photos as the Modified feature race (which Schrader won ahead of Stewart) was run during lunch and I was trying to choke down a very messy Fair food Italian Beef sandwich during the few minutes I had to eat! Funny how I can remember a race event from more than 25 years ago but can't remember what I had for breakfast most days!

So now the ARCA season is down to just four races: this weekend on the high banks of Salem Speedway in southern Indiana, next Thursday at Chicagoland Speedway, then the following Friday at Kentucky Speedway before the finale in late October at Kansas Speedway. Austin Theriault is looking like the 2017 season champ unless something drastic happens. That is certainly possible and if he falters, then Cunningham Racing teammates Dalton Sargeant or Shane Lee will be there to pounce. Come on out and join us. Look me up if you do!

This melee erupted after the first attempt at a green-white checker finish
It was great to be at the race where Will Kimmel got his first  ARCA pole position
Sideways isn't always the fast way in a stock car but Sheldon Creed didn't seem to mind
ARCA is known for close racing among the Top 10 and Ryan Unzicker got to 4th in only his second  race this season

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