For Renee, the 2016 season opened at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway. The Saturday, March 26 event – The Easter Bunny 125 – was the inaugural Southern Modified Racing Series (SMRS) presented by PASS event.
“Hickory is one of my all-time favorite tracks,” explained Renee. “It’s a long haul from New England – but it’s well worth the trip. History aside – and the place is steeped in history – I just really like the track. Modifieds put on a great show there – lots of nice two-lane, side-by-side action.”
The Ed Bennett Properties backed team participated in an open test on Friday afternoon – taking advantage of some extended time to shake off the long winter months for both car and driver.
On race day the team quickly found their groove – posting highly competitive lap times during official practice. Unfortunately an early draw for time relegated them to a disappointing 18th place starting position.
Undaunted, at the drop of the green flag, Renee quickly worked her way forward – marching all the way up into the top-five. Eventually she settled into the sixth, then seventh, spot.
“The plan was to get out of Dodge,” offered Renee. “We didn’t want to put the car in jeopardy by running in the back with the junk – but at the same time I couldn’t use up the car trying to accomplish that.”
“We got way up in the field and I found a spot where I felt comfortable with the guys I was running around. Then my spotter – Wayne Darling – came across the radio and said McKennedy [John – who was directly behind her at the time] would ride with us. That was like music to my ears – I never hear that. Nobody ever wants to run with the girl.”
The 125-lap event went green until an accident on lap 92 finally brought out a caution. When race control opened pit road, light rain had begun falling. The No. 59 team elected only to take a right rear – opting for track position – rather than taking the additional time needed to swap left-side tires, as planned.
The team came off pit road in 11th. But, on the restart, quickly lost a few spots.
“Race procedure allowed for one tire – and it had to be a sticker. That bit us in the ass. It took a couple of laps for the right rear to grow, for the stagger to open up. On the sticker, we were just way too tight. I had all I could just trying to not bounce the car off the wall.”
With significant rain falling, the caution again flew on lap 108. The race was eventually red/checkered because of the continued rain.
“We were just way too tight after the pit stop. In hindsight, we should have also swapped the left sides. Who knows – then the rain came and shortened the distance to 108 laps. We just never had the additional laps to see if we could recover the spots we lost on the restart.”
“Between Ed, Wayne and I, strategy wise, we ran a real smart race. We got up toward the front and then settled into a great spot to just ride – right in between the eventual race winner (John) McKennedy and (John) Smith – the guy who finished second. I’d call that a good plan.”
Next up the team is scheduled to run in the KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series at Hudson, North Carolina’s Tri-County Speedway on Friday, April 1.
*Editor’s Note: The Tri-County race has been postponed to July 29 because of inclement weather.
An update is long overdue… So, to that end, in no particular order here are some things Renee has been up to.
Wall Stadium Speedway
In early June another racing opportunity was born when Renee and veteran team owner Ed Bennett collaborated with several others to bring a Modified to Wall Stadium Speedway (Wall Township, NJ). The group effort came to fruition with an engine by Rob Ormsbee and Tom Martino (MB Race Engines); a chassis from Renee’s long-time team owner Bill Woodman and weekly maintenance by Ed. The team’s first outing came on June 28 at the Garden State Classic – a 125-lap extra distance event.
“It’s an adjustment,” offered Renee in response to being asked her initial thoughts on running Wall. “I’ve run here a few times in a Tour car – but that was several years ago and I obviously don’t remember much. Hopefully I’ll catch on quickly because, like most short tracks, the locals have a real advantage – kind of like Riverhead is or even Riverside Park used to be.”
After twice getting flat-out wrecked in the Garden State Classic, the team returned on July 19 for a regular 40-lap event. Starting from the 12th spot, Renee ran most of the race inside the top-ten. After battling through multiple restarts she came home in the 7th spot.
“I have some things to work on and as a team we have some things to work on in the coming weeks.”
With no set schedule, the team will likely head back to Wall for the August 30 ‘Beach Luau’ show.
Professional Driving Renee has continued to work various ‘Ride and Drive Programs.’ Most recently she represented Cadillac at the prestigious Greenwich Concours d ‘ Elegance. Aside from her work with consumer events, Renee has additional performance driving programs lined up for the fall.
Carbon-X Fire Retardant Sports Bra On April 1, ‘Trackrat: Memoir Of A Fan’ was published by Bob Englehart. Bob, perhaps best known as The Hartford Courant’s Editorial Cartoonist, was compelled to explore the world of short track racing after witnessing a tragic accident that claimed the life of Boston-area driver Shane Hammond (Thompson International Speedway – April 6, 2008).
Renee was interviewed extensively for the memoir; the results of which can be found in the ‘Carbon-X Fire Retardant Sports Bra’ chapter, as well as throughout the book. To promote the book, Renee is scheduled to appear at a book signing/panel discussion on September 16 at 7 PM at the Mark Twain House (Hartford, CT). The paperback book is available for purchase on Amazon.
Connecticut Children’s Medical Center On June 24, Renee joined several area teams and drivers at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, CT. Racecars were on display and drivers brought along giveaway items for the young medical center patients.
“To start the day, some of the kids came out to see the cars. Later on, we were able to go into the hospital and visit with patients,” explained Renee. “It’s quite an emotional experience to meet these suffering children and families. The best that we can hope for is that we were able to bring a small amount of joy to their day.”
Indy – Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational
In June Renee was a guest of longtime friend (and 1992 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year) Lyn St. James at the SVRA’s inaugural Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Lyn participated in two events – including the Indy Legends PRO-AM. The Pro-Am was contested on the 2.43-mile Gran Prix Circuit and was open to drivers competing in previous Indy 500s.
Renee spent the weekend cheering Lyn on and catching up with a group of close friends.
KINDERMA Sponsorship Back several years ago, Renee first discovered Hand Kind SCRUB – an industrial strength hand cleaner from KINDERMA. From their initial introduction, Renee and her family were hooked – declaring it the best hand cleaner they had ever used. Fast forward to the summer of 2014, when Renee rekindled her working partnership with KINDERMA inventor Scott Kennedy.
“I met Scott several years ago,” recalled Renee. “They were a product sponsor back then and we’re thrilled to have them back on the race car.” She continued: “In Hand Kind SCRUB, they have a product that is perfectly matched to the racing/automotive market. I think the relationship will work out well for both of us.”
At the track, be sure to stop by Renee’s car – or visit her during autograph sessions – where she’ll be handing out KINDERMA samples.
gearhead girls racing recently invited Renee to a unique and exciting event which has been established to connect America’s racing ladies with the Speed Sisters. The Speed Sisters are the first all-woman motor racing team in the Middle East.
During the event, gearhead girls racing will host Marah Zahalka, the youngest of five Speed Sisters. Marah is slated to speak at TEDxTeen in New York about her journey as a driver in Jenin, part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Against a backdrop of political upheaval unimaginable by many here in the US, Marah bonded with the Speed Sisters over a common desire to live life on their own terms. She’s now coming here to drive on American soil and share her story.
The Speed Sisters documentary is both intimate and action-filled; and captures the drive to follow your dreams against all odds – leaving in its trail shattered stereotypes about gender and the Arab world. The ﬁlm has already built an enthusiastic global audience and articles about the Speed Sisters have appeared in dozens of top publications. Join the tens of thousands of people that have already viewed and shared the trailer for this work in progress.
Stephanie Economu, founder of gearhead girls racing, has long worked to fill a need for women racers by founding an online community for networking with other drivers. Renee had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie several years ago when she was working with the prestigious Lime Rock Drivers Club. The two became fast friends and have kept in touch since.
The track day and reception on March 3 creates an opportunity for women from both sides of the world to celebrate what can be accomplished when a team pushes ahead at full speed. Both Stephanie and Renee invite you to join the history making event! To RSVP or to make a donation, please visit the gearhead girls racing website.