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.