Danica Patrick may need to check her rearview mirror. Maryeve Dufault is the latest beauty to make the jump to the NASCAR circuit. While Patrick crossed over from Indy cars to the big leagues, Dufault jumped from the ARCA circuit to race in a NASCAR Nationwide race in her home country: Canada.
“I started riding motocross at the age of four,” Dufault told FOX411.com. “My dad and brother race motorcycles, so I grew up at the racetrack. Ever since I was one or two years old, my mom took me there every weekend while my dad was racing.”
Dufault moved to California in 2000, and quickly landed a job as a model on “The Price is Right,” despite her shaky grasp of English.
“I wasn’t speaking English really well and I didn’t want Bob Barker to know that my English wasn’t very good,” says the French speaking native Quebecer. “But I had good time, it was fun and a great experience.”
And for someone with an expensive racing habit, looking good can help to pay the bills.
“Growing up, I didn’t have the wealth of my parents to support me with the best equipment,” explains Dufault. “One year I showed up to the track with a four-year-old chassis. The other guys had brand-new chassis. So, I had to find a way to make it work. When I won the Miss Hawaiian Tropic, I used the money to fund motorsports. Basically, I did modeling on the side, like an actor would work in a restaurant. But modeling pays much better money than working in a restaurant.”
Dufault may turn heads, but she’s happier when she’s racing at a breakneck speed. “When you start really young in racing, you’re not really fearful,” said Dufault of topping speeds up to 193 MPH. “Because if I was scared of speed, I wouldn’t be here today. On the freeway, everyone is driving about 100 MPH, and you don’t feel like you’re going that fast. To me, going on the racetrack is like going on the freeway–everyone goes the same speed.”
Being a woman in a male dominated-sport isn’t always easy. “Guys say bad things all the time," said Dufault. “They don’t want to see you and they don’t want to get beat by you. It’s just an ego sport. Most of the negative comments are behind my back–they don’t say it to my face. It’s more of the typical man talking, ‘Oh, women don’t belong on the race track.’ There’s women who speak out, but it’s tough. They’re just being negative when they’re all together with the guys. It’s like their own club–they don’t want to see women out there.”
Meanwhile, racing professionally against other women presents its own set of challenges. “Girls don’t talk to each other,” Dufault said of her racetrack peers. “It’s really funny. All the guys talk with each other, but not the girls. Me, I’m so confident in myself that I don’t mind the other girls. But some girls get catty. When there’s two or three other girls on the racetrack, it’s a really funny feeling. The girls will just look at you. I’m like, ‘Wow. Okay.’”
But Dufault will be happy to go up against NASCAR racer Patrick any day. “Danica’s nothing like that,” said Dufault. “She’s really confident–she’ll see you and smile and say ‘Hi.’ Pretty much all the other (female) drivers that I’ve encountered in the past haven’t been like her. Danica doesn’t feel threatened by another woman. She’s at high level–she has the best sponsors, the best equipment, she’s secure. She’s not trying to fight to be in the best spot–she’s already got it.”
Dufault may downshift with the best of ‘em on the track, but she’s off the clock when running errands. “When I’m not racing, I drive an automatic. I used to use a stick shift, but now when I get in my own car, I relax.”
And believe it or not, Dufault finds driving in Southern California more intimidating than competing in Daytona. “Driving in the streets of the Los Angeles is scarier than driving on the racetrack, because you have to worry about the people around more than yourself–there’s some really bad drivers out there,” she said. “On the racetrack, you know that the other drivers know they’re doing.”
While Dufault is gearing up for a race in Daytona in a couple of weeks, the recently single Maxim model is ready to mingle. “I really like athletic guys, people with a lot of energy and ambition,” she said. “Chemistry is important, too. Most of my exes have been athletes, so maybe it’s time to switch that up! Maybe I’ll try someone like Ryan Gosling. Not because he's Canadian, but yeah!"
And if Gosling and Dufault ever go on a date, he’d better take the wheel. “I’m still a lady,” said Dufault. “I like to sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride.”