PINKHAM NOTCH, N.H. — As age 12, Chris Duplessis from Mason Township near Bethel and his dad, Richard, met Tim O’Neil, owner/instructor of Team O’Neil Rally School and Car Control Center at the Climb to the Clouds race at Mount Washington. No other performance driving school would train students as young as Duplessis, yet O’Neil saw something in the young man that caught his attention.
“I first met Chris and his father several years ago,” said O’Neil. “His father asked me if I could train Chris because no other driving schools would at 12 years old. He was already a go-kart champion at the time.”
After going through the performance rally training Duplessis said, “I hung out there for years to come, built my own rally car, and when I was actually old enough to drive, he offered me a job.”
The former student is now a teacher.
“We teach people how to drive fast on loose surfaces,” Duplessis said. “We teach the art of left foot braking to balance the car out and to create oversteer for fast cornering.”
Duplessis is relishing his full-time job teaching performance rally driving.
“People find dream jobs once in awhile and I think I have found one,” he said. “When I was 12 I went to school to learn how to drive, work on cars, and build cars and now I am doing that as my job.”
The Team O’Neil instructor was invited to compete in the 2010 X Games in California. Duplessis was recognized by Rally America, the national pro rally sanctioning organization in the USA, as the fastest two-wheel drive rally-car driver for the past several years
“Growing up as a kid you always skate board, snowboard, and watch the X Games on television” said the 24-year- old Duplessis. “I never thought that my sport, which I am pretty decent at, would be on the X Games. In 2005 when rally was added I thought that it would be pretty cool to get there someday.”
Duplessis worked hard at gathering sponsors, prepared an all-wheel drive Subaru and towed it to California accompanied by fiancee Sarah Trask, from Hampden.
“To actually be there was ridiculous,” Duplessis said. “To sit on the starting line looking around I thought ‘wow I finally made it.’ The whole experience was absolutely worth it, awesome!”
Trask is Duplessis’ co-driver who reads course notes to tell what features of the road are coming up, thus allowing total concentration by the driver on going fast.
Trask, a Hampden native and the daughter of Jerry and Becky Trask of Green Lake, is a graduate of Hampden Academy and Eastern Maine Community College where she got her degree in radiology. She is employed as a radiographer at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
“I have been a spectator of rally racing for over twelve years,” Trask said. “One of my friends, Kristin Chute from Gray asked me to serve as a co-driver at the Team O’Neil Rally in 2010. That is where I met Chris.”
Several people from western Maine have taken jobs in the racing world of NASCAR, including Mike Morneau, Adam and Wade Luxton, and Brent Morrill. They all have worked in the Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series.
“I grew up with several of these folks who are now involved in NASCAR and live in the Charlotte, North Carolina area,” said Duplessis. “Rally was a street legal car that has races all year round, all four seasons and is relatively cheap compared to NASCAR.
“My ‘ah-ha moment’ came at the Maine Forest Rally when I was very young,” he added. “I first saw a rally car go flat out through a corner spraying the woods with gravel. I was thinking there is no way that guy can go any faster and the next car does.”
Duplessis’ mother, Carole, owner of Pooh Corner Farms in Mason Township said her son learned to drove at home.
“Chris learned to drive in the fields and driveway around the farm in the snow and mud,” she said. “When conditions get a little tricky that’s when he shines.”
Duplessis and Trask competed in the Climb to the Clouds race on Sunday when they finished first in the R2 Two Wheel Drive division and 13th overall in their specially prepared Ford Fiesta. Their time was 7 minutes, 31.09 seconds over the 7.6-mile course.