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The Canadian Press
Female Engineer Alba Colon Finds Place In Male-Dominated NASCAR
BY MIKE HARRIS
April 28, 2004
Dale Earnhardt told Alba Colon she wouldn't last a year when she began working in NASCAR's top series, not exactly the greeting she had hoped to hear.
"I wanted to show that guy he was wrong,'' Colon said.
Ten years later, Colon is GM Racing's Chevrolet program manager and one of the most powerful women in what has generally been regarded as a man's sport.
Her job is no simple task, either.
She manages Chevrolet engineering programs at the tracks, both racing and testing. She also tries to improve communications between the GM Racing engineers in Detroit and the Monte Carlo brand team.
``I'm the liaison between the brand team and GM Racing and at the same time I am a liaison between GM Racing and NASCAR at the track,'' Colon said.
In addition, she works on the annual racing budget for GM, and negotiates contracts between GM Racing and its teams.
At the track, she works closely with owners and crew chiefs, including those from Richard Childress Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc., the top Chevy teams.
``I try to keep up with what's going on and to help the owners resolve issues with the NASCAR officials,'' Colon said. ``As the person who goes to the track almost every weekend, I provide feedback to the rest of the engineers regarding any problems that have to be resolved.''
John Darby, NASCAR's Nextel Cup director, called Colon a ``refreshing, fun person.''
``You couple her personality with her knowledge of what we do and it's a real good relationship,'' he said. ``If she has a complaint, she doesn't sugarcoat it. She presents it and you debate it, and whatever the decision is, you go on down the road. She doesn't carry it with her the next week.''
So, how does a woman born in Spain and raised in Puerto Rico find herself working in NASCAR?
``I wanted to be an astronaut,'' she said.
In 1990, Colon was attending the University of Puerto Rico when she volunteered to finish a solar car for a Society of Automotive Engineers competition. She loved it, and as a member of SAE, she later helped design and build race cars for other competitions.
She graduated as a mechanical engineer and was working for a pharmaceuticals company in Puerto Rico when GM hired her in 1994.
Her first assignment was as data acquisition engineer for the Oval Track Group (Cup, Trucks, ASA and Busch). She met Earnhardt while testing a new engine with his team.
She was named NHRA Pro Stock Truck program manager in 1998, was put in charge of all of GM Racing's NHRA drag-racing programs in 2000 and moved into her present position in 2001.
Colon is now a familiar face in the Cup community.
``I feel I'm respected more now than before,'' she said. ``I feel welcome.
``You have to develop some respect from the teams, and they have to value and understand why you are there and what you are trying to do for them,'' she said. ``I have a great relationship with the team owners and there's lots of camaraderie.''
Team owner Richard Childress, for whom Earnhardt won six of his seven Cup championships before his fatal wreck in 2001, is one of Colon's biggest fans in the garage area.
``She helped us so much back when she was working with us as an engineer on the three car,'' he said, referring to Earnhardt's Chevy. ``She used to come and work at the shop and she played a big role in a lot of our success.''
Childress is happy working with Colon in her new role, too.
``If you need something or have a problem, or you've got new ideas or anything, that's who you run it by,'' he said. ``She makes sure that whatever it is gets handled, or she gets it to the right people to get it handled.''
Colon even managed to win Earnhardt over.
``When I got this job before the 2001 season, he came up to me and said, `Hey, you made it and I am proud of you.'
``I like challenge,'' she added, ``and I like to show people I can do whatever needs to be done.''