Podcast: Laura Wontrop Klauser on the ‘hard conversations’ within the Rolex 24 paddock
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As a high-ranking female executive in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Laura Wontrop Klauser said she hasn’t noticed any overt instances of being treated differently in a male-dominated paddock.
But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had many difficult conversations as Chevrolet’s first sports car racing program manager.
“I’m sure there were instances where I maybe had to argue or bring more fact or say something differently than had I been a man,” Klauser said on the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “But a lot of it is relationship-based in racing. My goal was to build strong relationships with everyone on the team. One of the benefits I have is I’m pretty personable and enjoy my minutes talking to each person and see how they’re doing and what’s going on in their lives.
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“So when we get in these moments where I have to tell a team, ‘What you’re doing is not OK We can’t keep doing it,’ there’s still tough moments and you do have to have extremely thick skin because words and emotions are exchanged. One of the best things about racing, which is also one of the worst, is that you have the most passionate people in racing. You get passion that is about working hard and being excited, and you get the bad passion, the anger and the things that come along when things aren’t going their way. You have to balance that.”
Klauser, who has overseen the Cadillac racing program (which has a four-race winning streak in the Rolex 24 at Daytona) since 2017, said there were even some tough discussions at Daytona International Speedway last weekend, which Cadillac and Chevrolet mostly dominated in Rolex 24 preparataions.
“We had a situation where the team forgot to talk to me first before they went to IMSA,” she said. “We’re still figuring some of that stuff out. I had to put a gentle reminder. The first one is gentle. The second one is not.
“We’ve had moments where teams come up with creative solutions for things. The way our racing works with vehicles homologated, it doesn’t allow too much creativity from a parts perspective. How you set up the car and aero bits, you can be creative. But redesigning (the car), you’re not supposed to do that. I’ve had to have conversations with teams, ‘The rulebook says it needs to be this, if you go through tech, and it doesn’t match this, don’t come crying to me.’ ”
An engineer who worked on production cars at General Motors before moving into racing, Klauser said her most difficult conversations are with engineers, and it isn’t because of gender.
“Engineers always think they’re right,” she said. “It’s the way we’re wired. There are times I’ll be told, ‘You’re an idiot. You’re not doing this right.’ I’ll tell them they’re an idiot, too. Once we get through that, it works pretty well.”
During the podcast episode, Klauser also discussed:
--Cadillac’s outstanding start to the practice sessions and qualifying race leading into the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona with NASCAR champions Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott part of the lineup this year;
--Her new job taking over management of Corvette Racing, including overseeing the budget and future direction;
--How she rose into the racing ranks and the progress of women in racing.
You also can watch a video version of the podcast above or on the Motorsports on NBC YouTube page.