If the name Kate Gundlach isn’t ringing a bell, and you have a deep love of racing, let ChicMoto help. According to Chip Ganassi Racing, where Gundlach, 31, works as Assistant Engineer, is the only female assistant engineer in the IndyCar series “who’s on the timing stand and in contact with the driver throughout a race.”
Yep. She’s the key point person to make fuel calls as well as calls for the driver, along with the race manager and Lead Race Engineer. As ESPNW points out in its interview with our Indy-NASCAR darling: “If you think it’s no big deal, in either case, watch an IndyCar or NASCAR telecast on any weekend and see how many women you can spot on the pit road—in any role, let alone leadership positions. Gundlach […] could one day lead an IndyCar or NASCAR team…”
That’s the part about Gundlach that really intrigues us here at ChicMoto. But we obviously had more questions for this rising racing starlet—lucky 13 to be exact. And that lucky number 13th question was our personal fave. Gundlach dishes on her top eight tips for boosting your auto confidence, and we think you’ll find her suggestions eye-opening.
And stay tuned: ChicMoto will be releasing more Influencer Interviews for this special series all summer-long! If you didn’t catch our interviews with Katherine Legge and Ashley Freiberg, check ‘em out here and here. Now, start your engines and get ready to learn all about the woman behind the racers…Kate Gundlach.
ChicMoto Q & A With Kate Gundlach
CM: Can you tell me about your background with cars and how you got to where you are today?
KG: My background started with vintage motorcycles. Both sides of my family were heavily involved in building and racing vintage bikes and I would follow my Dad to the track when I was growing up. I really enjoyed the lifestyle of vintage motorcycle racing—the travel, working on the machines, admiring the art and innovation of each manufacturer, and the people I met along the way. When it came time to graduate high school, I chose the University of Pittsburgh’s Mechanical Engineering Program, partly because of its Formula SAE car. The car used a superbike Honda CBRF4i engine, which I could relate to, and so began my journey on four wheels.
I was very fortunate to have a formula car team, John Walko Racing, close by the university. I started interning there my junior year of college, traveling and finishing my degree, which may not have been the best thing for my grades (but I would do it again in a heartbeat!).
Once I graduated, I started full-time with John Walko starting as a second mechanic, then a data engineer and eventually a race engineer in the Star Mazda Series. JWR sadly disbanded a few years later and I worked on a few different teams in the Star Mazda series before working for the series themselves. In 2012 a friend of mine recommended I apply for the position of Data Acquisition Engineer at HVM in the Indycar series. I worked as a Data Acquisition Engineer at HVM for a season, then at Rahal Letterman Lanigan after HVM went under. A position opened up at Chip Ganassi Racing for an assistant engineer (one step up from a Data Acquisition Engineer),I applied and am now in my third season with Ganassi as an assistant engineer on the No. 83 car.
CM: What were you like as a child? Were you cautious or a risk-taker? Is your family surprised that you’ve built a career in the racing world?
KG: Growing up, I was always into dirt bikes, motorbikes, etc. I liked to take things apart and put them back together. However, I was pretty cautious, making sure I knew all of the risks involved before trying something.
My family is not surprised I chose a career path in racing, and even though there were a few years when they suggested I may want to consider another path, they have always supported me and my endeavors. They are pretty happy now that I have found my path and made my way.
CM: What was your first job in the automotive industry and how did you choose that position?
KG: My first job was a salvage shop, Addam’s Auto Cycle in Harmony, Penn. My Dad’s friend owned the shop and I helped to wash and prep the cars, change tires and change small parts on the wrecked cars and bikes. I liked working on my own car and bikes and felt at home among the parts, shop space and people who worked there.
CM: What was your biggest challenge or milestone you faced as a woman in the automotive industry?
KG: I have been very fortunate in that the people I have worked with and around have treated me as an equal and as just another team member. In the past, I didn’t think that being a minority in the industry was unique. In this industry, you have to prove that you are capable—no matter what age, gender or profession. Any challenge I faced, I interpreted it as a chance to learn more and to prove that I was capable of working hard, learning and adapting. Because I have been so fortunate not to experience blatant sexism in the sport, I have to thank the excellent people that I have and do work with, my family for my work ethic, and the women who have worked in this series, at higher levels, who have paved a path for my peers and I.
CM: What was your proudest accomplishment? And what did you gain from it?
KG: I think being able to survive up to this point is my proudest accomplishment! However, in my career, so far I think my proudest moment was calling fuel for the hundredth running of the 500. The race was monumental and re-reading Janet Guthrie’s book really puts into perspective how significant it was to participate as a female engineer at that event. It was a very nice snapshot.
CM: What was your greatest defeat? And what did you learn from it?
KG: I don’t consider any mistake a great defeat, but instead as a means to improve and come back stronger. I make a ton of mistakes and never view any of them as defeats.
CM: If you were talking to your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
KG: I would tell myself to not be so cautious, sometimes you just have to wing it!
CM: If you were talking to a person interested in racing now, knowing what you now know, what advice would you give them?
KG: If someone is interested in racing and would like to know a little bit more about the sport outside of race results, daring overtakes and driver profiles, I would suggest paying closer attention to race strategy—especially in Indycar.
Our races require at least two pit stops, pit sequence, positions gained or lost, stint length, etc— this all really makes the race interesting, especially since races are won and lost in the pit lane.
I also suggest that fans pay closer attention to the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the Pro Series. For example, Formula Ford, a small engine-ed, open-wheel race car with minimal bodywork and no front or rear wing, has a rich history in the U.S. and abroad. The class is a melting pot of chassis types and development.The cars are often handcrafted by their owners and often each car is unique. The racing is very tight and drivers of all levels compete.
CM: Have you been supported by a mentor during your career? Who were/are they? And what value have they brought to your career?
KG: I have had a number of mentors. My first being John Walko, owner of John Walko Racing (JWR). John gave me my shot in this industry. He believed in me, pushed me and gave me the confidence to tackle larger and larger problems. He absolutely changed my life and my thinking and I am very grateful to have been a part of his team.
Rossella Manfrinato was the first female race engineer I met. She started working at JWR the same time I did and we were roommates on the road. Rossella has worked in nearly every kind of racing series and is a highly respected engineer in any paddock. She was my first role model—and still is to this day.
Gary Rodriguez and Scott Kush are two mentors of mine who I worked with at Star Race Cars. They brought me on at Star Race Cars as an engineer responsible for part production, engine testing and component problem solving. They treated me like family, as I was living alone in Los Angeles, where Star Race Cars was based. They pushed me, but their belief in me and my abilities did far more for my career than I can describe.
CM: What was your first car and some great memories from it?
KG: I wrecked my first car in the driveway before I had a license. My second car was a little BMW 325e and I drove the wheels off of it! The car was very easy to work on and was very accessible. My favorite memories were of performing my own car maintenance and feeling the sense of pride that comes along with solving problems.
Another favorite car of mine was my Saab 9000. I bought the car through John Walko, who was a serious Saab expert. He taught me that if I did a “Saab fix of the day” that the car would never fail me—and lo-and-behold: the one day I didn’t do anything to it, it broke down!
CM: What advice would you give to any woman trying to make a career in the automotive industry?
KG: Study whatever materials you can.
Become an expert.
Show that you are an expert.
And roll with the punches.
CM: What is the biggest struggle you see with women and cars? (i.e. learning the technique, their confidence level, or just thinking that men can take care of it)
KG: It seems that working on vehicles has always been labeled by society as masculine work and, in the past, women working in a masculine setting have been portrayed in a negative light. Perhaps women have been steered away from masculine jobs by society? Women are just as capable as men when it comes to understanding how vehicles work and how they are put together, however, that is not always advertised…Perhaps women, in general, need to see more female role models immersed in a “man’s world,” picking up wrenches and maintaining their independence when it comes to their vehicle’s maintenance.
CM: Would you like to see more women involved with cars? If so, what do you think they should always know about cars? Do you think a website built for this purpose would be helpful?
KG: I would love to see women, in general, become more independent and self-reliant when it comes to caring for their cars and vehicles. Not everyone needs to have an intense interest in cars, or a need for speed, but they should at least to have an awareness of how the vehicle operates, understand problems that may arise, and make an effort to resolve those problems. Whether that effort be to take the car to a mechanic or have a crack at it yourself.
One thing any woman should always know about cars is: they are not magical—they are logical. There is always a solution, and we are more than capable of figuring it out! Cartalk.com is my favorite go-to for car repair and problems.
CM: ChicMoto is all about teaching women more about cars to help build their confidence so they do not always have to rely on men or mechanics. What is one thing you always knew about cars that helped you get out of difficult situations (i.e. blown tire, oil changes, check engine light, etc)?
KG: I have a few:
Take your vehicle to one-shop for all maintenance, and develop a good relationship with that shop and/or mechanic. Having a shop and/or mechanic that you completely trust and who knows you and your vehicle will provide a better service and learning environment than a quick stop oil change garage. A personal connection goes a long way when you entrust another person to care for your car. If you commit to one garage, they will be very open to explaining problems and solutions to you and will go the extra mile to make sure you are taken care of.
If an alarm comes on the dash, there is a problem. Be very cautious, especially with tire pressure alarms! I hear stories all the time about people ignoring tire pressure alarms or check engine alarms. If your tire deflates while you are on the highway, and you ignore the warning, you will likely end up damaging the car further and you possibly could lose control of the vehicle. Tires are the only connection the car has with the ground, monitor the tire tread and pressure once a week!
If your check engine light comes on, there is a problem that could stem from a number of sources. If you have a good relationship with a mechanic or shop they will be able to explain to you the issue and help you to correct it. The problem may be killing your fuel economy or be warning of a larger problem!
If you lose control of your car and the rear-end starts to come around: turn the wheel opposite to the direction you feel you are spinning, in essence, counter the spin. If you start to lose control and you feel like you are starting to spin clockwise: steer the wheel anti-clockwise to correct the vehicle.
Practice corrective driving in a snowy, empty parking lot (legally, with supervision and un-responsibly!)
Try compressing the brakes hard to feel the car start to skid and the anti-lock kick in, try to accelerate and turn the wheel hard to start a spin then counter the spin to correct the vehicle’s path. If you practice now (in a safe environment) you will not be surprised when it happens unexpectedly!
Get AAA! It is well-worth the $50.00 a year when you lock your keys in the car—which I have a terrible habit of doing.
Get the “Car Talk” vehicle log book and keep it in your car. The book helps you become more connected with your vehicle in terms of care, road trip checklists and track your fuel economy.
Always carry a working flashlight, a small tool kit, blocks of wood, a blanket, an old book, a bottle of water, candle and matches stored somewhere safe and dry in your car. If you get stuck with a maintenance issue or with weather those items will get you through temporarily.
Listen to the “Car Talk” podcasts!