KEEPING UP WITH RENEE DUPUIS: All About Wheels, Deals, and The Coolest Feeling Ever by Jes Zurell

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Renee Dupuis got a taste of the track when she was four years old, and doesn’t have any conscious memories of it. Her parents had bought a quarter midget, and her passion took it from there. Last April, she became the first – not to mention only – woman on on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and this year she hopes to uphold her reputation for top-ten finishes.

The key is having a solid team both in the pit and behind the scenes.

Sponsorship came to Dupuis in all different forms. There’s no rhyme, reason or method to sponsorship – especially in today’s economy. In her case, she finds that being a female, at times, can be an advantage.

“I think sponsors are looking for recognition,” she said. “Sometimes a female in a male-dominated field is more easily noticed. That can be a double-edged sword though, because you can be noticed for something good and you can be noticed for something bad. You need to be prepared for things to work both ways – that’s a mistake that a lot of females in the sport can make these days.”

You need to be prepared for things to work both ways . . .

One of the biggest sponsors Dupuis worked with was Pepsi. They were interested in doing something with Riverside Park in Agawam, Mass., now Six Flags Amusement Park, so they went to Riverside and asked for someone who would do a great job representing the company. The park owners gave Pepsi Dupuis’ name.

“Deals like that… you can bust your butt, knock on a million doors and never get an opportunity like that,” she said. “So I get this telephone call from a representative who said, ‘hey, we’d like to sponsor you,’ and I was just amazed. The first thing I thought was, ‘Don’t screw this up!’”

The deal endured until the company reorganized in order to be more similar to Coke. When that happened, she ended up losing the deal, but Dupuis was involved with Pepsi for four or five years. Sponsorship can be a fickle, tricky realm of business, and Dupuis knows a thing or two about maneuvering tight corners.

Driven by improvement, Dupuis’ focus and determination are forces to be reckoned with.

With nearly 35 years in racing and no plans to pump the brakes, she remembers that nine times out of ten, plans fall through. Sponsorships don’t always work out as expected and that’s just a part of the sport.

“It’s really hard to get excited until I have the deal in my hand,” Dupuis said. “After so many disappointments, you can’t do that to yourself. You have to insulate yourself from the disappointment, and it’s difficult because how fast you want to go is directly related to how much money you have to spend. That’s the case for kids in quarter-midgets and for upper-echelon sports car racing. It makes absolutely no difference. The guy or gal with the most sponsorship money is going to have the most opportunity to win.”

Picking up sponsorship from Union Insurance Group, out of Chicago, Dupuis feels she’s in a great place. At this point in the year, Dupuis and her team have an affordable partial schedule, not to mention a component more important than funding:

“[The crew] is such an essential component of the sport – you can have all the money in the world, but if you can’t find a key group of people who can put those parts together, all your efforts are a complete waste of time.”

With mounting success, UIG and 21 other sponsors at her back, Dupuis is focusing on the Southern Modified Tour for 2012. An aggressive engine program means a strong possibility of capturing a pole this year – one of her goals.

Now if only April would get here a little sooner! (the wait is now over! Renee’s first race of the season is this Saturday, April 14th – see the link below for more details) Until then, whenever she has a need for speed, her father’s Viper is a fantastic antidote.

“It’s a crazy, crazy car, and what’s so wild about it is that there are very few production cars in the world that are faster and more powerful than that car. It’s pretty cool to go out in that car and know that, no matter what other cars you see on the road, they don’t have a chance in hell. That’s just the coolest feeling ever.”

Driven by improvement, Dupuis’ focus and determination are forces to be reckoned with. In 2012, there’s no stopping her.

“You have to know you can do better, so that when you lay your head on your pillow at night you can feel satisfied with yourself. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that. Hopefully I’ll find it – then it’ll be time to find a new goal.”

Be sure to tune in this Saturday, April 14th when Renee kicks off the 2012 season at South Boston Speedway, South Boston, VA

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