Just before IndyCar’s first race of the 2022 season, Jalopnik had a chance to sit down with Cara Adams and Lisa Boggs to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in the motorsport world — and especially when it comes to the complex world of tire development.
Adams — who recently married and has changed her social media display names to Cara Krstolic — is the chief engineer and director of race tire engineering and manufacturing for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports, as well as being the first and only female chief engineer in IndyCar history. Boggs is the director for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports.
Elizabeth Blackstock: Would you guys mind starting by telling me how you both got into the racing world, because it’s usually not common for women to be doing, especially engineering and the STEM roles?
Lisa Boggs: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got a couple of great, very different stories, but all great stories. Why don’t you start? Want me to start? So I started, when I got out of college. I got a job with an agency in Chicago, and one of their main clients then, and still now, was Philip Morris with Marlboro. So one of the things that I eventually worked on was Marlboro and their sponsorship of Team Penske, so it was Marlboro Team Penske at the time. And then just working through how to leverage and activate that sponsorship in the world of Marlboro and the cowboy, and driver is hero, and they did a lot of terrific activation for a lot of years. I went to Michigan International Speedway on that and just started learning and watching, and then watched those cars come into one and the start and thought, “Okay, there is a lot to this.” I really believe it’s one of those things that either you hook on and I really love it, or you just don’t.
But if you really do. And so over time, I just learned and liked, and then they were looking for someone to replace Chris Mears to work with Al Unser Jr. And I raised my hand and said, “Talking about doing this full time, I would do it.” And the next thing they’re like, “Yep, come on.” And I land that role. And then from there worked with Hornish and cast and a number of drivers. And then I worked for a PR agency, always keeping a racing theme, got to experience another series, and then the ultimate of all that work when the opportunity came up at Bridgestone and I had the honor and I really mean that, the honor of doing this job and now I’m here. This will be my ninth season, I believe.
So it’s terrific. But it’s just one of those things that I’ve been very fortunate to just really be able to build a career.
Cara Adams: All right. So my story’s a little bit different that I feel like my racing story starts when I was a kid and my mom as a science teacher, let me make toilet paper rockets. So I developed that passion for science way early on. And my grandfather was an engineer for NASA. And I thought when I was a little that I was going to be astronaut, ballerina scientist. So that’s what I was going to be.
EB: Just a couple things, yeah.
CA: Do experiments on pirouettes and face or something. I don’t know. My grandfather had an engineering degree, so I went to the University of Akron and I did, I get my degree in engineering. While I was there, I wandered down the machine shop where they were doing formula SAE, which I think you’re familiar with.
And what’s this all about? And they’re like, “Well, you can help out, but you don’t know anything right now, we can learn a way to turn a screwdriver. So why don’t you start out by cleaning up the chop floors after we’re done and here’s some drawings and you can use the layout dye and mark out how we’re going to cut out parts and then we’ll teach you how to use the machines.” So that’s where I learned to use the old mill and the lay and all those tools. And I learnt probably almost as much in the formula SAE program because that I did in my engineering degree.
So I’ve used both of them quite a bit, but that was great, practical hands on. I knew I wanted to work in automotive. Bonus points if I could work in racing, “If you guys are going to pay me to work in racing, that’s what I want.” So I went to Bridgestone, they had opening of vehicle dynamics. I started working with passion of cars like you and I might drive. I think I worked on Nissan Titan and Acura TL were a couple of my first projects. And then I pestered my way into racing and the rest is history.
LB: One thing that’s common in both our stories is there was a core thing. I was very much m ar-comms, even in college that found the niche and woke my way around. And Cara was early on engineering and science, but at some point we both had to raise our hand and say, “Okay, we’d like to do this. I want to learn this. I will take on a role.” Which then set us on the path to that. Ultimately, get to be our partners in crime. So, yeah.
EB: I imagine, that the Motorsport world has changed, especially when it comes to women in Motorsport. Since both of you have started your careers, would you say it’s become a little bit more welcoming and that there are more opportunities being presented to girls so that they don’t have to be the ones who say like, “Pick me, I wanted to do this.”
CA: Yeah, I’ll talk about that from the technical side. So when I started, there were other female engineers that had been around before me, female chemists, and we had them even at Bridgestone and Firestone. So there was that gap was laid down before me. But when I started my first full year in 2008, I was the only female technical person that traveled with the IndyCar Series and had a couple of funny stories that happened based on, “Oh, there’s a new person joining and her name is Andrea.”
I reached out to that person. And I said, “Hey, it’s great to have another female engineer at the track. If you need anything, please stop by. And I’ll introduce you to some people.” And he informed me, his name is Andrea and all that situation. But Elizabeth, you’ve seen maybe a couple of my pictures on social media, where last year at the Indianapolis 500, we had probably about 25 engineers.
The number has grown year over year, last year. But the year before, even before GRID Autosport came on, we had a large number. It was like 15 engineers and mechanics. And then with the addition of GRID Autosport, even more.
So I think with Lisa’s story and my story, they wanted to hire the best possible person, they wanted to put the best possible person, the role did not matter whether we were male or female, most qualified. And that’s the person that put the role. I think you see people like Lisa and I in these roles, young girls see that and say, “Oh, okay, those two ladies together are running all those Firestone Racing. If they can do it, I can do it.”
LB: Absolutely. And mine was a more common path.
So I came in, what is more traditionally the marketing communication side, did mar-comms for the team and the drivers, and then continued on that again. So mine’s the much more common story. So I think for me, the difference is to Cara’s point, we were all here. It’s the roles in which we’re now doing, that have changed.
So before you would see, and I mean, we still laugh because Cara and I have been in a meeting or two and someone has said to Cara, “So you’re the PR car people, right?” “Well, I was, and I’m really proud of that but no.” Yeah, it’s funny. And that’s fine. So for me, it’s the rule. Now, there’s Cara and she said 20 plus folks and they’re on teams. And I mean, we were just over, Cara said Pete. Actually the Team Penske set up as across from us and there was one of the women working on the car. And so you’re just seeing it, a wall to know where there’s just more opportunity for a variety of roles, not just the ones that are more traditional.
CA: I’ll add to that is the women you see in IndyCar are not only passionate about what they do, but we’re a very approachable bunch.
If a young girl that comes up to Lisa and I at the racetrack or any of the other people in racing, whether they are communications people or they’re engineers or they’re mechanics, they’re willing to take the time and talk to the people. On the technical side, we have a group of women that just try to meet maybe once or twice a year, once at Indy, once usually over Zoom over Christmas time. And we talk about, “Hey, what are some of the struggles that you’re having?” And there’s a great mentoring relationship. And it’s grown and it’s always wonderful to see somebody that you mentored now mentoring other people too.
So it’s a great community too, as far as all of us at IndyCar.
EB: Sorry, we’ve got birds that are going crazy outside. You’ve both been working on developing more sustainable tires while also making sure they’re still capable of racing, which are usually two very different things like racing’s excess and sustainability is reigning that in. How have you guys balanced those concerns as you’ve developed these newer, sustainable racing tires?
LB: So I’ll start from a little bit more of a technical side again, because it’s the technology that helps us develop. Honestly, we have to start somewhere. If we just decide racing and sustainability are two separate things, we’re never going to get better. So we use some of the materials that we’ve been using, the more sustainable materials and some applications that are not quite as severe. We develop that technology and it makes its way into tires like Indianapolis 500.
So there’s a lot of development process and we’re working really closely with the Bridgestone’s passenger engineers as well. So we’re working to see what they’ve done and what they’ve studied. There’s a lot of material studies that we’ve done, trying to look at different types of materials. And Lisa can talk to a little bit about sustainability, but sustainability is one of our core visions as Bridgestone is we want to provide sustainable solutions to our customers and to society around us.
So it’s really key in what we’re doing. You’re going to hear some full stuff coming up this year, hopefully about sustainability you know things that we’re trying to do. But I would say probably two to four hours out of every week of my schedule is focused on sustainability. And how do we make the manufacturing process that’s sustainable and how do we make the race tires more sustainable and how are we genuine about it?
Not just saying, “We’re doing it.” It adds, the transportation of tires, end of life. It’s something that to Cara’s point is extremely important. A priority corporately and Motorsports is an important platform and a terrific way to do that. Working closely with our passenger tire engineers. And the other of thing I’ll add to that is the other thing that’s terrific is and where IndyCar is a great fit in particular, working with NTT, IndyCar Series and Penske Entertainment, Penske Corporation. I mean, we all have a very similar vision and the synergies that we can do working together in that collaboration is what I think really will get us as Cara said, “You have to start somewhere.”
And so the synergies with all of us working together on all the different opportunity areas for sustainability, the transportation, the tires, and the tire life cycle, all of that, we are all looking at and all working together to really make a change. And we’ve got targets. We are looking at 2030 for carbon offset, the carbon neutrality. 2050 full carbon neutrality. And that’s global for Bridgestone. And they’re looking at Motorsports platform globally as ways to do that, not just with IndyCar. So it’s a very meaningful and important effort and one that we’re just really excited to be part of and see how we could contribute. We always talk about the track to street and what better way to demonstrate than sustainability?
EB: Yeah. In terms of just general technology, I know tire technology evolves a lot faster than I think the average person sees, I just did the Bridgestone Winter Driving School and we did all see tires on snow. And it was like, that’s not a thing you could have done five years ago. Where do you see Motorsport tires being five years from now?
LB: So one of the things that we have done over the years with IndyCar is we’ve really gotten it. Specifically the IndyCar Series, we’ve tuned the tires really well around the car. Now, you’re going to see some changes. You’re going to see the new hybrid engine. It’s a larger engine, maybe more manufacturers. And that hybrid is going to be heavier. It’s going to be more weight. So we have to adapt the tires around that probably for the IndyCar Series, not a big leap in tire designs, but some incremental designs to update what the car demands out of the tires are going to be. Certainly we look at lots of different Motorsports platforms in the United States, not just IndyCar, although IndyCar is our primary focus right now.
EB: And both of you, for your average weekend to look like when you’re at the track. What do you up to? What are you doing?
LB: Well lot. So this would be one example, which we [crosstalk 00:13:42]. So this is a great example. So I’ll speak and really enjoy the opportunity at the track to work with different groups, whether they’re out here with STEM programs, with young girls or kids from the area, getting a chance to speak with media, whether it’s on site or via Zoom like we’re doing now. We have meetings with other suppliers or stakeholders. We host people, that’s very important. Give them great VIP experience. Of course, particularly Cara and team and working with the teams and then obviously focus on what’s happening on track. That’s obviously really important part of the weekend. So it’s just really balancing all those things. And for me anyway, it’s that great combination, what makes this terrific because you could be in a meeting about something creative and then we’re watching on track and coming back here to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the first weekend back at school.
So for our engineering team, most of our work is done before we actually even get to the racetrack. So once we get to the racetrack, we try to get here a day early and we’re actually going to be scanning the racetrack to look at the friction values, to look at the service values. There’s anything that stands out, we’re talking to race teams on the technical side. We have sometimes drivers, sometimes engineers come over, what can I expect? We give them data in advance of the race, but sometimes they have, “All right, I saw in your data that you expect alternate tire to have more drift here at CP. Can you tell me what that means for where? How much of you receive?”
So we may have people come in. If they have questions about tires or looking at tires, physically. Our team, we have an engineer or a technician assigned probably two pit boxes per engineer. So they’re looking at a very macroscale, what is happening with this exact race team? Getting that data back to those of us that are... we call it floating, but looking at all of the tires so we can get a general idea of how people are using tires. If there’s anything that we need to talk to, if somebody’s running strange conditions on the car we had. Sometimes we’ve even seen something’s wrong on the car because the tire looks unusual and we trace it back to maybe they have the wrong suspension arm or something on it. So there’s a lot of stuff that we’ll do here interactively with the race team.
EB: And what makes working in IndyCar an attractive prospect in terms of tire development?
LB: So in terms of tire development, we would say racing is the ultimate proof point for our technology. It’s a fun thing to say, but it’s also a very true and that you were running in Indianapolis 240 miles per hour into turn one. There are definitely unique challenges for designing an agricultural tire or mining tire with mitigating heats and a pasture tire to make sure you balance that snow performance that you add on the L season, but make sure it runs really well in the heat and in the rain and all of the other conditions. But we’re right on the edge of technology here and the unique speeds and loads of these tires is a really great engineering challenge. We have a great group of mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, chemists that all support this.
LB: And it’s just that for us on the key engineering side, it’s fun to solve problems. “Okay, all right. Now we’re going to throw an extra 250 pounds because of the new hybrid engine.” And it’s going to add this much horsepower. It’s going to go do this, “Okay. Go solve the problem.” And it’s just really fun on the engineering side. It’s a challenge and then it helps us when we have challenges on the pasture tire side, “Hey, here’s what we learned at IndyCar. How could can you apply this?” Yeah.
CA: And I’ll just say it again, working with them and learning. I always think one thing is it’s the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzled domino effect. Everything’s affecting... and then you’ve got to balance it out and watch that. And how do I solve for this? And then the things you can’t control. So they’re doing all this and then drivers and teams make a decision. I mean, it’s just an endless problem solve puzzle and not problem solve, meaning problem. Just meaning you have to think through and how does this change and what do we want to do next time? Yeah, I as a non-engineer find it absolutely fascinating. And there’s always challenges even on the non-technical side, if driver A, wants to do this with his tires and we just want to do this, and this is the specific thing that we want to do and it doesn’t affect anybody else, don’t worry.
Solving that problem of, “Okay, well, if this person does this, then this person’s going to do this. And here are all the other dominoes.” Sometimes Lisa and I will talk through. All of the areas that we can’t see here, my favorite terms that Lisa says is, “What’s the missing sentence?”
Somebody might come up and grow something that seems like a really good idea. And I think okay, there’s a missing sentence here, yeah.
LB: And you do, and the funny part about this is we both learned to do no matter what. So someone come in and they’ll talk to you. And literally you’re like, “Okay, I’ve been around long enough, keep talking.” They think whatever, everyone’s creative and competitive and I’m like, “Okay, keep talking.”
Where’s the sentence? Yeah. It’s just funny. And they laugh. They know, which is much fun. They’re trying to get the edge or all good spirited. But, yeah. You’re never bored. You’re never going to be bored.
EB: I was going to ask, what is it like working with drivers and teams? Because especially when it comes to tires, I feel like that’s one of the more thankless aspects of putting together a car because when it goes right, no one says anything, but when it goes wrong, it goes terribly wrong. How do you guys manage, I guess the personal relationships that come into play?
CA: So a little bit from the technical side, and then I’ll get into the personal relationship side. The interesting thing Elizabeth is when drivers complain, it’s usually about stuff that doesn’t matter.
We’re going to talk about 500 and in Texas and challenging tracks and say, “Wow, Firestone does an amazing job. I’m throwing all of this at the tire and it’s handling it.” Where they’re going to complain is, “I don’t like St. Pete, my alternate tire went off. They’re designed to go off. Well, this other person’s tire went off more and less.” So the things that they are complaining about, not that they’re not be valid to them, but are the less of the technical challenge, point of view. So having that personal relationship is really key. So first of all, if a driver has something to complain about, I want them to feel free to come and talk to Lisa and I. If you don’t like something technically about the tire, or if you had an operation that our engineering staff is here and just come talk to us, we’ll look into it for you.
At the end of the day, it might be nothing, but we’re going to look into it for you. And we have that relationship with our drivers. It’s always interesting. And first race, first day of school, like this to talk to the freshmen, make sure they know that they can come talk to us too. But having that personal relationship is key. And sometimes that helps them give the benefit of the doubt. So they know our reputation, they know our tires are consistent. So when they have something come up, they’re not going to say, “It’s the tires.”
They’re going to say, “All right. We’ve been through this before. We know that the tires are durable and consistent and all, so let’s see what it could be before just jumping to it.” And I think if you don’t have that personal relationship with the drivers and the teams, then there might be a tendency to say, “Oh, it’s the tires.”
LB: Yeah, 100 pro, all of that. And it’s like in anything, they talk about how important relationships are and extremely important in these situations. And we all care about them. You work to build them, but in a genuine way, we’re here together weekend after weekend, they’re running. We’ve all been around for years. We’ve known them when they were young, old, work with them. So building relationships that are truthful and meaningful is very important. And I think it does come and then that also is because of mutual respect.
We respect them tremendously and they know it. And they know that we care tremendously and build the best race tires in the world. And we want them to come in. You can come and yell at us, have at it. We told them, “We’re good, you just come, have at it, let us listen. And then we’ll figure it out, sort through it.” And the other thing I think that’s important too, is we both know minimum on the environment long enough to know how emotional they can get in a moment.
Sometimes, they’re in a car and the first thing they come out of the pits. So in their head, tire change, whatever. And they’ll comment something and they’ll scream. Okay, just let that go. Usually after the race or Cara usually will go down, “Hey, I heard on the radio, something up. What’s up?” Even mid race, their engineers are communicating and it’s just everybody working through it. But there’s a tremendous amount of relationships and trust and respect. And it is everything.
It really is. And it’ll be interesting. Now we got to be rookie class. So it’ll be fun to work with them and see how they do, yeah.
EB: I was going to ask, is there any differences that you get from, I guess, drivers that have come from other series? There have been quite a few that came from F1. I feel like the relationship that F1 drivers have with Pirelli is a lot different. Was there any like learning period there?
LB: Well, one of the things that we’ve done with all of our drivers is they’re all invited to our pre-season technical meetings. So they brought some really interesting viewpoints on things, not getting into what they would say about competitors that Jimmie Johnson on one side and Romain Grosjean on the other side, and it’s been really positive and they both have just really good things to say about working with us and the fact that we’re open and come talk to us if you have anything. And I know one of our Formula One drivers will email me and say, “Hey, I love the tires, but I felt this, this weekend, is that normal?” And just having that ability to have that open relationship.
And every once in a while, there may a joke about another tire competitor in there, but I’m not going to share that. And they think they’re funny. The drivers are funny. They’re funny, not just about this, but generally speaking but yeah. Again, it’s been really positive and I think the best thing is when these drivers, wherever they came from and its different situations come to any car, come to the NTT, any car series, they love it.
There’s a pure driving to this. Whether it’s Jimmie who I just have so much respect for. I love that he’s here. He just wants to race.
This is about nothing other than a dream to race in IndyCar. It could not be more pure. Because nothing to prove. He is so lovely in the pad and with fans. It’s not about them and us, he’s just a racer.
Grosjean is seemingly... he has come to talk to us from the get go just to meet people in the paddock. And it’s like this either dream, he wants to do, revival and next step. So that translates into even probably them dealing with their engine manufacturers and us. They’re drivers, they just want to learn. They want to know, they want to do well. Yeah, so we feel that and it’s terrific. The group of drivers in the paddock, it’s second to none. I mean, it is. They’re amazing.
What they do, the way they interact, the competitiveness, big rookie class could not be more excited to see how they do. You’ve got everything and Elio on one end. All the way through this rookie class, Tatiana coming in is just terrific. So yeah, a really, really optimistic and it should be a really great season.
EB: And my last question, what would you guys say is the most fulfilling part of your job?
CA: I’ve got part one and part two for you, Elizabeth.
So I would say as I’ve developed and I’m now leading this amazing team of engineers, probably the most fulfilling thing for me to see is one of my engineers do well. Maybe they get a compliment from a race driver and the team is so passionate, just so to actually see that passionate. See the one of my engineers is really like, they put in a design, they’ve put in all the time and the effort and engineering and the race tire does really well.
To me, that’s really fulfilling means. If you were to ask me maybe five years ago, the most fulfilling part is when a driver wins the Indianapolis 500 and they get out of the car and they say, “I worried about my fuel strategy. I worried about my engine failing. I worried about the other cars, but I never worried about my fires and tires.” That to me was so personally fulfilling. So it still is.
But now from my side, it’s just to see my team doing the wonderful work and coming up with those great designers.
LB: Yeah. And mine’s very similar. And that the first thing, when you ask that is the people.
It’s the people you get to work with. It’s the people that as we get lead teams, as they learn, if they go to love the sport, they do well. It’s the folks that come up to you in the paddock. It’s the drivers and both our cases, we’ve been around a long time that you continue to see and the word proud. I’m just very proud of who we get to work with, representing and it gets back to the first starting thing is to have worked hard and built careers that we’ve been able to stay in and built the career, just the sentence for this long.
And at the end of the day, when these jobs came up with all that work, we’ve both done. We just never know. I really believed we got hired and put these roles because we had the right background. For me, you either wanted this role to have more of a mar-comms background or tech background. Because mar-comms, thank you for choosing me. I can bring that.
Obviously was an engineer, do not hire me.
You don’t do that. And then again, same thing with Cara, as she loved and took this job that was genuinely recognition of just hard work and caring about the job. And now it’s really special as we’ve done this now for a while, just to see it continue to grow and the success and the people we work with and the program and the program in the eyes of Bridgestone corporately and globally. So we’re just, very, very grateful. Very fortunate.
EB: Thank you both so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. And good luck with every everything this weekend