Getting started in motorsports can be a leap of faith for those who haven’t done it before, but it sure gets easier when there’s someone there willing to help you through the process.
Renee Dupuis is one of those faces. After participating in arrive and drive programs over the past 15 years, she jumped into the Track Night in America fray at the inception of the program in the Northeast, including at Thompson, Palmer and New Hampshire.
“It’s a sport that I love, so it’s been really rewarding to introduce the sport to new people and then encourage them,” Dupuis said. “From that point of view, it’s been very satisfying. It’s near and dear to my heart. To be involved for six or seven years, I see people that were once in my novice group coming back and running the advanced group. It’s pretty cool to have gotten that hooked as well.”
And she’s done it well.
“Anybody with a street legal car is basically welcome to join us,” Dupuis explained. “Some of them have never done a track day, period, or maybe they’ve done some autocrossing or another one of SCCA’s offerings. Then you get a wide variety of vehicles, low weight and low horsepower or high weight and high horsepower. So you take not only their experience levels but whatever their vehicle might be, and we ask them to get out on track all together and have a positive experience. What we’re doing is a very tall order, but I think we do a spectacular job of doing that.”
With a focus on the Novice group, Dupuis’ strength is encouraging new folks to try it out and feel welcome. Her strategy is to encourage consistency over speed, as taking little bites and making little improvements lessens the learning curve than just going for speed straightaway. That comes through loud and clear in her Novice meetings.
“If we set the tone at the beginning of the day, it goes a long way toward sending people home with a good experience at the end of the night,” she explains.
Not coincidentally, that plays nicely with two other opportunities.
The first is SCCA’s Women on Track program, which is led by a strong group of female SCCA participants in every discipline. The goal of the program is exactly what the title states – to get more women on track, in a manner that is open and less intimidating. In short, exactly what Dupuis does for each and every new participant at Track Night in America.
“I couldn't have asked for a better coach to guide me through my first few track night events, TNiA participant Kayla Densmore said. “Renee’s approach is not only knowledgeable and confident, but also humble. As a female participant in a prominently male sport it was encouraging and empowering to have her as our instructor."
The second, of course, is the track time and opportunity. As the events continue to gain popularity, especially in the Northeast, the slots fill up fast. The challenge is that many drivers who may be comfortable moving into the intermediate classes remain in Novice simply for the available space. This isn’t a bad thing – but it does lead to those still on the fence to miss an opportunity because they were a step behind.
But the SCCA has noticed this, and is actively doing something about it. For the October 5 Track Night in America at Thompson Speedway, the Club has splurged on an extra hour of track rental time to open up a second Novice session for that event in an effort to encourage more new-driver participation.
Even better news? Our pal Renee Dupuis will be the coach for both Novice sessions – the perfect opportunity for those who have been “just browsing” to get started.
For those who are still not quite sure, it’s a great opportunity to come as a spectator and take part in the 3:20 pm Paced Laps, for free, in a street car – no helmet required (this happens at almost every single Track Night in America, by the way – so it applies to all of you!). While you’re there, chat up Dupuis and get a feel for the event so that you’re ready to strike the next time.
“When they designed this program, I think they did an incredible job of encouraging people that don’t have any experience to dip a toe into the program,” she told us.
So what are you waiting for?
Photo Courtesy of Renee Dupuis