By Joe Jennings, NASCAR correspondent – Motorsport.com
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards race at Daytona is a magnet for up-and-coming drivers, hoping to demonstrate their potential in front of the entire racing community. Not unexpectedly, female drivers are among the hopefuls in the starting field every year. For the 2011 edition, Maryeve Dufault and Milka Duno were the entrants, seeking to capitalize on the attention accorded headliner Danica Patrick a year ago.
Although Dufault and Duno are attractive, their first priority is to be recognized as skilled racers. They qualified 24th and 25th, respectively, and drove well in the wild-and-woolly race until taken out in an accident late in the race.
Dufault, 28, first gained national recognition when she won a Hawaiian Tropical beauty contest a few years ago and thereafter she has appeared in commercials and has had minor roles within the movie and television industry. While she has enjoyed these roles, she has used her earnings as an investment to advance her first priority — motorsports.
As a young child, she started going to races with her dad and her older brother, both of whom raced motorcycles. From the outset, she was hooked and had her first taste of competition came at age four. Go karts, motocross and other forms of racing followed but after her brother had a nasty crash, her father mandated that she only race vehicles with four wheels.
After winning the Miss Hawaiian Tropic International title, she moved to California to improve upon her English, to model and act and to look for opportunities to race. Acting and modeling paid the bills and satisfied the ego, but that didn’t satisfy her desires, only racing would do so. As a result, she took advantage of opportunities with the Skip Barber Racing Series, Star Mazda, Formula cars in Europe and China and got her sedan exposure after signing on as a development driver with Alex Tagliani’s FAZZT Race team.
She also became involved with Dodge Motorsports, which led to an opportunity with the ARCA Series and the Tony Marx Racing team. She joined the Marx team for the ARCA test at Daytona, which led to an entry in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 a few days ago.
“It has been my dream to race at Daytona,” she said. “Just being on the race track has been a good feeling and when you take that first corner, it is impressive. Getting up to speed is mind-blowing. I am so happy we qualified well. My team has been working very hard on the car (Dodge Charger). I really wanted to make that race so bad, and I did so.”Oval-track racing represents a new discipline to learn, as her experience has been gained on road courses and dirt tracks. “I am used to a lot of right and left-turn action, and I had to get into a different zone, which required a different mindset. It has been very challenging,” she noted.
Wanting to do as well as possible, she watched a lot of videos and sought the counsel of experienced drivers such as Frank Kimmel and seven-time race winner Bobby Gerhart. Following their advice, she qualified a respectable 24th.
Concurrently, her team signed a season-long sponsorship from VR-12 Cooling Systems, which gave the team the resources needed for a full 2011 ARCA campaign. “With our interest in the environment, we should be an amazing match,” she said.
For the 80-lap race, her goal was to stay out of trouble and to finish the race. She ran well during the early going and even received a compliment from spotter Mike Calinoff, who said, “I just want to say you are doing a great job. You are doing what you need to do by just staying in line.”
While she followed the game plan, others didn’t and she got caught up in a multi-car crash in the late going. “The race was going great for me until then, and I was really focused on what I had to do,” she said. “There was lots of excitement and the cars got spread out. I just went with the flow and tried to stay away from things that were happening. I almost cleared the wreck but got hit by someone. There was nothing I could have done.
“My race went well and my spotter did a great job, too. I had a lot of fun and it was a great experience for me and a good first step for the team. And we are ready for the next step.”
Dufault and the Marx team exited Daytona on a high note, and starting to plan for their next outing, for the Talladega ARCA 250 at the Talladega Superspeedway in April.