The 30-some racers in Sunday's ARCA Series contest at Toledo Speedway all made their share of sacrifices to arrive there on that piece of asphalt, strapped inside a 3,400-pound mass of metal that is churning up 800 horses of snarling, snorting power.
Most have invested a chunk of their own earnings into their pursuit of success in the sport.
Maryeve Dufault shares that personal financial commitment, but none of the other drivers in the field can match the source of the funds she has used at times to sustain her racing career.
She's the only former Miss Hawaiian Tropic International in the race, the only model, the only stunt actress, and the only former Barker's Beauty from The Price Is Right who will take the green flag at the start of the Menards 200.
"In the past, I've used the money I earned from modeling and photo shoots to buy tires and other things I needed to go racing," Dufault said this week while putting in a few practice laps at the Benore Road track. "I am very determined, and when you have a passion for racing like I do, and like these other drivers do, you find ways to make it work."
Dufault is a native of Quebec who grew up watching her father race motorcycles on the ice, and on dirt tracks. She developed a fancy for risk, danger, and extreme sports.
She has raced motocross, snowmobiles, motorcycles, go-karts, and open-wheel cars. Before she reached the age of 10, Dufault had suffered broken arms in racing crashes. She didn't stop racing, however, and continued to use outside sources to help further her on-track endeavors.
When Dufault won the 2000 Miss Hawaiian Tropic International title and represented that company around the world, the prestige and the modeling contract that accompanied the crown were not as prized to her as the motorcycle and the Jet Ski that were part of the deal.
It took a while, but Dufault said her father eventually convinced her to only race on four wheels, and she competed in open-wheel events in England and China as well as throughout North America. She moved to Los Angeles eight years ago to be closer to the acting and modeling work that has sustained her racing pursuits.
"I think racing gets in your blood," she said. "It wasn't easy, but I did modeling jobs and it paid the bills. Now I have people who believe in me as a race car driver, so all of the sacrifices have been worth it."
Her break into the big-time stock car racing world came when a representative from Dodge Motorsports witnessed her taking part in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series last year. Tony Marks Racing signed Dufault to drive its No. 12 Dodge Charger full time in the ARCA Series for the 2011 season, with the hope she will soon move up to NASCAR's Nationwide Series, and then to Sprint Cup.
Jarit Johnson, the younger brother of five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, was working with Dufault as a driving coach during her Toledo Speedway practice session on Monday. Johnson said Dufault is adapting well to the much heavier stock cars after moving from the lighter open-wheel cars.
"She went out there and ran very consistent, which is a very good sign," Johnson said. "I'm just working with her to understand more on how she can get on the throttle and roll through the corners. She's doing a good job. It's a tough road to come from a different series and background, let alone get in one of these things [ARCA car]. We're all proud of her."
Dufault said she still gets the questions and the puzzled looks as some folks struggle to understand her preference for the noise and smoke at the race track over the glitz and glamour of the modeling world.
"Sure, some people think it is crazy, but I know where my heart is. I'm a race car driver, and I want to be known first for what I accomplish on the track," she said.
"We all took different routes to get here, but every driver wants the same thing. You want to compete, and you want to win. My passion is here at the track."
Dufault and teammate Jared Marks will meet fans and sign autographs at Grogan's Towne Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram this evening from 6 to 7. Some fans will win tickets for Sunday's Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway, suite passes, and a ride in the official ARCA Racing Series pace car at the event.
The ARCA pace cars will be on display along with the ARCA safety vehicle -- a Dodge Journey supplied by Grogan's Towne. Dufault's show car, a Tony Marks Racing Dodge, will also be displayed at this evening's event.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510