VERNON — When Danica Patrick was pumping the brakes on her amazing auto racing career three years ago, another female driver had the pedal to the metal.
Hillary Renaud, who estimated that she has taken the checkered flag about 15 times in her life, flew around Monadnock Speedway each Saturday night in 2017 to capture the Lightning Stocks series championship.
"It's hard to describe what it's like during a race. I get so anxious while sitting there waiting to drive out on the track. The adrenaline is so high, as I'm excited to go out there and do the best I can do," said the 24-year-old Vernon resident. "Once you head out onto the track, it's like it is a different world. It's you, your car, and the other drivers. You're all out there for one thing, and that is to win and hopefully bring the car home in one piece."
Renaud started out by ice racing for fun at just 8-years-old. Her competitive career began at age 14, when she raced in Monadnock Speedway's Youth Division.
"I talked to my dad about how bad I wanted to try it and we found a car, got it ready, and I went racing," she explained. "I helped work on the car whenever I could, learning new things all the time."
The 2014 Brattleboro Union High School graduate has competed in the Lightning Stocks and Street Stocks classes at the Winchester, N.H. track ever since. She drove her No. 88 Chevy Monte Carlo to victory on July 18, and is fifth in the Street Stock point standings heading into Saturday night's race.
"That race was one of the happiest experiences in my life. After spending so much time on the new car and making it the best it could be, it all paid off when I crossed the finish line after leading every lap of the race," the rising star said. "My crew and I had finally done it. It was one of the best feelings I've ever felt. It was such an amazing accomplishment. It still hasn't totally hit me yet."
When asked about the Cup Series, the construction company employee listed Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman as her favorite drivers.
"I watch NASCAR on and off, but I don't follow it all the time," said Renaud.
Just as the pros rattle off the names of their sponsors when interviewed in victory lane, she is thankful for King's Electric, ICE Service Group, H&M Auto, Renaud Brothers Construction, Triton Automotive, Valley Crane Service, Rameau Family Motorsports, Williams Race Gears, Andy Miller and 360 Design Lab for stepping on board this season.
And then there's her talented pit crew members — Dan Frederick, Paul Smith and Richard Vincent. They assist her every Saturday night when she puts a show on for the diehard fans.
"Once they double you up for the lineup to come around for the green flag, your game face is on and you do the best you can possibly do. Once the green flag drops and you go, it's driving your line and hitting your marks at every point on the track," Renaud stated. "Although you may not hit them every time, you do the best you can and treat every lap as the last lap. I honestly cannot put into words the feeling I have when I'm racing my hardest, but it just feels right."
She is one of a handful of regular female drivers at Monadnock Speedway, along with Amy Jaycox of Hartland, Alicia Fohlin Parker of Massachusetts, Connecticut's Nancy Muni Ruot, and New Hampshire's Kim Rivet. They all have a chance to be the next Danica, who cut her teeth in a go-kart series at age 10.
"I love the adrenaline rush of being out there in a car, doing the best that I can do. Most people don't understand the feeling you get when you work on something so much — putting all your time and money into it and having it pay off," Renaud said. "A lot of people ask me why I like it, since you really don't make any money in it. The answer to that is 'happiness.'"