“SAE helped me get my dream job”: Hendrick Motorsports’ Alba Colon shares career insights at WCX
Posted: April 20, 2023
Alba Colon didn’t always want to work in motorsports. In fact, she had her sights set much higher – atmospherically speaking.
As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, Colon aspired to be an astronaut, following in the footsteps of her hero Sally Ride.
“I wanted to be the first female Puerto Rican astronaut,” Colon told a crowd at SAE International’s WCX.
Her dreams led her to the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, where she studied Mechanical Engineering and first became acquainted with SAE International.
“In 1990, I was reading an SAE magazine article about Formula SAE. I wrote to SAE and about a month later got information back on the program,” Colon said.
Colon and four male classmates got to work on building their Formula car, and from that moment on, she was hooked. She spent the next four years participating in and taking on leadership roles with Formula SAE, leading to connections with General Motors (GM) where she worked for years as a Data Acquisition Engineer for the GM Motorsports Program and eventually becoming NASCAR General Manager at GM in 2001.
In her time at GM, Colon had the chance to work with racing greats, including NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. She was content to spend the rest of her career there until one day when she got a call from none other than famed NASCAR team-owner Rick Hendrick, asking her to be a part of his high-performing Hendrick Motorsports team. Colon accepted the role as Director of Competition Systems at Hendrick in 2018 where she leads a team of engineers who carry out digital simulations, studying and tracking performance and analyzing data to share with the track engineers and crew chiefs.
Colon detailed the demanding schedule of a NASCAR Cup Series racing team, and the multiple parts that come together to make a Sunday race day happen, for the crowd at WCX. The work starts at 7 a.m. on Monday morning with a car evaluation to kick off daily meetings about vehicle status. The week includes quality control checks, tearing apart and rebuilding engines, and testing and analyzing aerodynamics and other driving factors before sending the car off on Friday, after which engineers continue communication with the on-track team throughout the weekend until race time, when they get ready to start it all again.
“Racing is my life and I love what I do, but racing is a life that takes from you seven days a week—that’s your whole life and that’s your family,” Colon said.
And as racing and the team environment inspires Colon, she also finds it important to pay that inspiration forward. She’s an active volunteer with Formula SAE to this day, and an advocate for women and people of color to enter STEM spaces. Her volunteer efforts even landed her close to her childhood hero, Sally Ride, when she had the opportunity to serve as a teacher at an event in Michigan for young girls hosted by Ride herself.
“It was the best day of my life. I got to meet my idol,” Colon recalled.
As she looks to the future, Colon emphasized the need that Hendrick and SAE International have for each other when it comes to developing technology and standards. Colon shared how valuable it has been for her to network with professionals at SAE events and encouraged the crowd to “get out of the bubble” and see what’s out there.