Sara's Circle: Racing with Bridgestone's Cara Adams
Fun, in Cara Adams' world, goes pretty fast.
"When you get in there and you can start talking about various intricacies of the engine, people are like, ‘Oh wait a minute, she knows what she’s talking about!' That’s kind of fun," she said.
"Millions and millions of people watch the Indianapolis 500 and my team and I are responsible for designing those tires. So it’s just a great responsibility that the company has given me, and it’s great stage," Cara said. "We’ve been racing since 1911. We had tires on the very first car that won the Indy 500, so we’ve had this great tradition so the challenge is how to do we bring it forward, how do we keep improving? Just because we’ve been great so far, that doesn’t mean we can rest."
Cara's been preparing for this part, since her childhood in Green, starting with her science teacher mom's neighborhood camps.
"I was really blessed to have my mom push science and make it fun. Science really to me is fun. Engineering something is just another way of playing with toys for me," said Cara.
At the University of Akron, her toy of choice soon had four wheels.
"I got bit by the racing bug then...I have built up a mustang to be a drag racing car, I rebuilt the engine, transmission, pretty much everything on that car," she said.
Cara trained herself on textbooks outside of class so that when a job at Bridgestone Americas Motorsports opened up, man or woman, she was the best candidate.
"Sexism exists. We see it at the race track. It’s not as bad as you might think though," she said. "The first few times I went to talk to drivers, I would ask, 'How were the Firestone tires?' and they would say, 'The Firestone tires were fantastic. Everything was great.' So I learned I needed to be able to let them understand I want the technical answer. So, I would come up with technical sounding questions, like, 'Can you tell me about the mid to exit understeer of the car coming through Turn 3?' and that would signal to them, okay, she’s an engineer and we should talk science to her."
There's an increasing number of women in the pit and the design lab. And Cara is leading the entire race car development team. After all, Cara says, the car doesn’t know if it’s a man or woman behind the wheel.
"People respect results. If you’re able to accomplish those results, people are going to respect what you were able to do, and it doesn’t matter what you look like at that point," she says.
She never gets far from racing. Her hobby is triathlons, like a 70.3 mile IRONMAN she completed in September.
"I love to train. I love running, running is a great way to just turn my brain off from all the noise of everyday life, and for me, competing in triathlons is a really great way for me to disconnect," she said.
"I am competitive, but I know when to back that down," said Cara. "Sometimes you need to step back and support other people."
Her support comes from her family. Her little sister and best friend are also engineers. And her husband is also a big race fan.
"He’s super super helpful and super supportive of the long weekend hours, and everything like that," she said. "I’m one of those really rare people that really likes what they’re doing. I think working with the Indy car series is phenomenal...Honestly in five years, I see myself doing this. I’m really passionate about it and I really love it."
How cool is it to hear that?
Cara loves to mentor young women, Girl Scouts, and other groups interested in science. You can follow her race season adventures on Twitter @CaraAdams.