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Governor sees state's stock rising with Maine-branded NASCAR ride

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Governor sees state's stock rising with Maine-branded NASCAR ride

PORTLAND — Alongside logos for nationally known brands like Hertz Rent-a-Car and Toyota, emblems for the state of Maine and several of its local companies will be seen zipping around a Kentucky racetrack this month at 185 mph.

NASCAR driver Austin Theriault on Friday morning unveiled a Maine-branded car the Fort Kent native will drive during a nationally televised Nationwide Series race at the Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 20.

The vehicle is decorated with iconic images of lighthouses, blueberries, lobster and moose, as well as logos for a range of Maine companies, including Bangor Savings Bank, Kepware Technologies and Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine lobster.

Peter DelGreco, head of the business attraction firm Maine & Co., helped pull together the collective of private companies who teamed with Gov. Paul LePage and the state Department of Economic and Community Development to sponsor the car.

“NASCAR is one of America’s most powerful and popular marketing venues,” DelGreco said during a Friday morning news conference in downtown Portland.

“It brings Maine to light – the Maine brand, its quality of life and Maine workers,” said LePage, who contributed $15,000 from his discretionary fund to the overall sponsorship cost of nearly $200,000. “It tells the world we’re open for business.

Another $35,000 is coming from the state tourism budget.

“We’ve been saying for four years that we’re open for business,” the governor continued. “Now we’re going to have one of our own showing not only that we’re open for business, but he’ll show the Maine work ethic behind the wheel.”

LePage, who is running for re-election this fall against Democratic six-term U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, installed an “Open for business” sign under the “Welcome to Maine” sign on Interstate 95 in Kittery early in his governorship.

Theriault, 20, was hired for three races this season by JR Motorsports, the racing company owned in part by popular Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and influential NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick.

Theriault pointed out on Friday that another Maine native – former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven – is scheduled to be the on-air commentator for the Sept. 20 race, so the distinctive Maine-themed wrap has a good chance to get extra mentions in the broadcast on ESPN.

He added that he’ll be taking the car to promotional events and talking up Maine tourism and the state’s business environment around the country as well.

Although the Nationwide Series doesn’t attract as much public attention as the higher profile and star-studded Sprint Cup Series, LePage said he expects “hundreds of thousands of people” to see the Maine-branded car.

Theriault said he fell in love with racing when he first started in the sport at Spud Speedway in Caribou at age 13.

“It’s been a bumpy road. There have been ups and downs,” Theriault said of his burgeoning racing career. “That’s why I say I go back to my upbringing, coming from The County, the hard work ethic. That’s why I think this is a Maine story about working hard and not giving up, persevering. And that’s the story we’re going to take to the public and that’s the story we’re going to take to the airwaves.

“Having the state, having ‘Maine’ on the hood and having ‘Maine: Open for business,’ it gives us a kick in the butt,” he continued.

Sarah Emily Colby – co-founder of one of the car sponsors, the Portland engineering firm Colby Co. – said during the news conference that Theriault will serve as an “excellent representative of our small business community: A hard-working hard charger who’s really proud of (his) home state.”

“I think it’s just good to let the rest of the world know what Maine’s about,” Theriault said. “If we can attract businesses, if we can attract tourism. ... I think it’s going to be an investment that’s well worth it in the end.”