Woman fights her way to top of NASCAR boys' club

Woman fights her way to top of NASCAR boys' club

Woman fights her way to top of NASCAR boys' club

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by CHRIS CLARK / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @CDClarksports

WCNC.com

Posted on February 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 11 at 12:28 PM

She doesn't look or sound like anyone in the garage.

“She is such an awesome person and then she backs it up with getting the job done,” said NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson.

In a sport built on name recognition, hers is the one that turns their heads.

 “She is very proactive,” said NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.  “She is always… what can we do to make it better?”

Her name is Alba Colon, and she's a major reason Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart could do this.

“I love automotive,” Colon said.  “Outside of that, I realize I love the speed.”

Officially she's the Chevrolet Racing program manager for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. She is the go to engineer for teams like Hendrick, Stewart Haas and RCR .

Growing up in Puerto Rico the goal was much different for Colon.

“I went to a school to be a mechanical engineer because I wanted to be an astronaut,” she said.

Luckily for NASCAR she was introduced to formula s-a-e, a competition where students design race cars.  She was hooked.

What was it about working on cars that clicked for Colon?

“I learned that I love speed.  I learned the passion of working on something.  And you can find passion in many things in life, but it's just like my passion went there,” she said.

In 1994 she broke in with GM as a data acquisition engineer.  When she first showed up in the garage, she said it intimidated.

“I think that when you take something new in life you can be a little bit intimidating,” she said.

“If you're woman, no matter what aspects you are coming in to, it's even tougher,” said Tony Gibson.  “Everybody was a little skeptical about what does she know.”

“It took some time,” Colon admitted.  “I cannot tell you specifically how many years or days or weeks, but I realized and something that I always learned you cannot demand respect, you earn respect.”

Colon had a very famous run-in with the face of NASCAR Dale Earnhardt.

“He said I would not make it a year in the sport.  At first when he said that, after a couple of minutes, I got mad.  But then I thought I'm going to show this guy,” Colon said.  “Later I learned that's the way that Dale is and now many years later I understood he likes me.  That was a way to tell me, ‘Yes I like you.’”

The Intimidator showed his admiration by bringing her in the winner’s circle after winning the 1995 Brickyard. In 2001 she took over GM's top NASCAR position. Since then, Chevrolet has won 12 manufacturers titles, including the last 11 straight.

The side glances and second looks she used to get walking through the garage have been replaced by smiles and hugs.

“She is fiery,” said Stewart.  “She is a go getter.  She is not one to react, she is one to be proactive.  So that makes our partnership with Chevy awesome.”

Colon is so well respected she's sought out for advice far beyond cars.

“When I'm looking to go or to make a different change in racing, I have always called Alba and ask her what are you thinking?  What are you thinking is the best team I should go to?” Gibson said.  “She is the reason I came to Stewart Haas.  She is the reason I went to DEI.  Every step I have made she has been point on and I've been successful.”

There are a lot of people that would shut the door behind them when they get to where they are going, but Colon makes frequent trips back to Puerto Rico to help others and bring people to the sport of NASCAR.

“There were people that helped me along the way and I really believe it’s everybody's job to help,” Colon said.  “What is America?  It's a combination of many races and that is NASCAR.  If I can be an agent of change and help with that, that is what I am here for.”
 

 

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