As the granddaughter of a former NASA engineer, Cara Adams has had science running through her blood her entire life. The current Chief Engineer at Bridgestone Americas Motorsports/Firestone Racing is the only female lead engineer in IndyCar, where she is responsible for the development, design and testing of brand tires for use throughout the Verizon Series.
During her undergraduate studies at Akron University in the late 1990s, she was involved in the Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) program and had the opportunity to design and build a real race before graduating with a Mechanical Engineering degree. She eventually found her way to Bridgestone/Firestone in 2003 working in the Vehicle Dynamics group. Still, being on the racing side of the business was where she wanted to be working. After speaking with a few senior leaders in race tire development, she received word that becoming better-versed in race vehicle dynamics, programming and other technical aspects of tire development would suit her well should a position open up.
“My goal was to be the most qualified person for the job if one came open,” Adams told SportTechie. She ultimately becoming the the Senior Project Engineer for Race Tire Development in 2008.
Now, as Chief Engineer she oversees a team of seven, including mechanical and chemical engineers along with one technician, who design and build all types of racing tires utilizing virtual and 3D models combined with specific data points to craft a better tire.
Adams in addition to Lisa Boggs — who is the Director of Bridgestone Americas Motorsports — spoke further about leveraging augmented reality for at-track fan experiences, tire preparation for the Indianapolis 500 and how the brand positions itself online and across social.
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Adams on being IndyCar’s only female Chief Engineer and challenges she has faced in a male-dominated sport …
There’s always going to be challenges but in general, the people who work in IndyCar are pretty fantastic. People respect the role. I have a really close friend who’s a driver (Katherine Legge) and she said, ‘The race car doesn’t care if there’s a male or female behind the wheel.” The tires certainly don’t either. In general, the folks in IndyCar and with the Verizon IndyCar Series are great. Our company has been gender-blind when it comes to things like this. Of course, there’s bad apples you run into it. There are positives you can take from it…When I started working in IndyCar, I took advantage of sticking out a little bit. Instead of being the tire guy, I was Cara. They recognized me and remembered me.
Boggs on how Bridgestone Americas/Firestone Racing have leveraged AR/VR technologies as part of at-track fan experiences…
We did an augmented reality program at fan experience, where a fan could take an iPad and put it over an area of one of our IndyCar show cars and then it would pop up a “Fun Fact” to talk to you about tires but in a fun way and teach you some fun things that maybe you wouldn’t have known or really tried to understand what these amazing race tires have to do. That was about a year or two ago. We haven’t jumped into virtual reality yet. Down the road, we might.
Boggs on which social media platforms Bridgestone Americas/Firestone Racing is currently focused on and why…
We try to use a number of platforms, and we look at the ones where so far we’ve received the highest engagement. We look at our fan base, where are they. We work in collaboration with the brand group. Twitter, for example, there’s Firestone Racing. We also have Firestone Tires as well on Twitter and Instagram. What it allows us to do is engage with fans on specific tire-focused information and maybe amplify what tracks or drivers are doing, focusing on unique content, videos, behind-the-scenes or blogs from Cara. We use Instagram and Twitter to do that. The racing side of the business was the first within the Bridgestone brands to use Instagram…From a digital standpoint, we’re continuing to build. We have web and also work closely with our digital team. For example, leveraging the Indy 500 winner to do a digital buy with media or partnering in some newsletters. We are getting better at utilizing all of those opportunities. It goes back to why we’re doing this: to tell the Firestone story.
Adams on advice she would give to students wanting to work on the technical side of motorsports…
If you want to get in on the engineering side, find an engineering school that has a strong Formula SAE program or projects that you can be really involved in. When we interview people, that’s the first thing I look at. What projects were they involved in and what did they do on those? Being able to build your resume is first. Then, there’s your contacts. Attending the races, meeting people and asking questions…Whether it’s motorsports or another area you want to get into, talk to people in those areas and ask what’s important? Whether it’s studying new books or developing a skill set you might not have, those are all things to do.
From 2016, below is Adams giving Facebook Live viewers via the Firestone Tires page a peak at how tires are prepared for the Indianapolis 500.