A Woman Who Knows the Score

Jun 14 2005 admin News Comments Off on A Woman Who Knows the Score

Corvette Racing’s Melanie Correll Times the 24 Hours of Le Mans Single-Handed

LE MANS, France – Among the dozens of mechanics, engineers, technicians and drivers who make up Corvette Racing, Melanie Correll stands out. Not because she is the only woman working on the pit stand, but because she brings a unique and essential skill to the team. Correll is a master of the art and science of timing and scoring. Tracking lap times, pit stops and penalties for 50 entries in four different classes for 24 hours nonstop is just another long day and night at the office for Correll.

Raised in a sports car racing family, Correll joined Corvette Racing in 2000 as the team’s official scorer. She has been on the pit box for every one of the team’s 37 victories, including three class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. On June 18-19, she’ll record every lap by every car for 24 straight hours without a break. While mechanics catch catnaps between pit stops and drivers get a few tense hours of rest between stints, Correll will be at her station on the pit wall.

“In 1971, the movie Le Mans came out, and I thought, I’m going to go there someday,” Correll recalled. “I saw the movie and was hooked.”

Today Correll has the best seat in the house at Le Mans, just inches from the cars speeding past the immense grandstands that line the pit straight. She’s traveled a long and winding road from amateur sports car racing to the world’s most important and most prestigious road race.

“My father was an SCCA racer, and I timed for him when I was a kid,” Correll explained. “My parents taught me how to do a lap chart to keep me from getting bored at the races. That was in 1969, when we used paper, pencils and a stopwatch with a sweep second hand.”

The equipment may have changed, but the need for absolute accuracy has not. Today she tracks each entry with a dedicated computer program, adding value by spotting trends emerging from the controlled chaos of an endurance race.

“My job has evolved,” she noted. “It’s gone beyond keeping track of drivers and positions; now my job is to look for trends and to make sure that the official timing and scoring is accurate. Even though the race officials have their own scoring computers and timing transponders, occasionally there are problems. Mistakes happen very rarely, but when they do, that’s what keeps me coming back each year.”

Timing and scoring is a skill that Correll has honed through years of experience. “I learned how to do timing with a sweep hand stopwatch, timing six, 10 or a dozen cars with one watch,” she said. “That experience gave me a sense of the passage of time that people who time with digital watches often don’t have. Now the laptop allows me to multitask because it does the mundane tasks with the math while my brain thinks about what’s happening in the race.”

Correll has developed her own techniques to maintain her concentration throughout a race that is as much a test of endurance for team members as for racing machines.

“The older I get, the harder it is to maintain my concentration,” she laughed. “When I was 20, I could do six 24-hour races in a year; now I’m 45 and it’s harder to recover. But when the race is going along and something happens to change the picture, suddenly you’ve got to do some fast thinking. That’s when I get the adrenaline rush.”

“I eat chocolate-covered espresso beans to keep the caffeine going,” she revealed. “My race day diet is almond butter and cheese because they give me energy and stay with me.”

Ask the inevitable question about how she goes 24 hours without a bathroom break and Correll answers with a laugh: “I have one bottle of water that I make last until the morning and a second bottle of water that has to last until the end of the race. I don’t drink coffee or tea because I can’t go to the restroom during the race. I just eat the coffee beans.”

Correll is easy to spot in the Corvette Racing pits – not because she is a woman, but because her trademark is two shoes of different colors. Since joining Corvette Racing, Correll’s race day wardrobe includes one black and one yellow shoe.

“That tradition began back in the Buick Motorsports days,” she said. “It started as a joke, but the little team I was with won a pole, then won a race, and then won the championship. It became a lucky charm, and I’ve worn different colored shoes at the track ever since.”

“I do alternate the right and left shoes, however, so they’ll wear evenly,” she added with a smile.

Correll is unfazed by the fact that she is a female working in a male-dominated sport.

“I grew up in post-Title IX era, so when I played sports in school, I trained and played with the guys,” she explained. “I’ve always believed that if you do your job, gender doesn’t matter. My experience in racing has always borne that out, and I’ve been fortunate to work with terrific teams.”

Corvette Racing is backed by the vast technical resources of General Motors, but it is also rich in human talent. It is a team that comprises skillful, resourceful and dedicated people. Each brings unique talents and experiences to the cause of winning championships for America’s favorite sports car. Melanie Correll is one among many who aim to see Corvette Racing again on the top step of the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Release Date: June 14, 2005