GM Racing Profile: Gary Claudio, Group Marketing Manager
Translating Success on the Track into Success in the Showroom
DETROIT – Life on the mean streets of New York prepared Gary Claudio for life in the fast lane of auto racing. The former street cop may have traded his bulletproof vest and pistol for a polo shirt and a cell phone, but Claudio has lost none of his street smarts.
“Five years as a New York policeman taught me how to deal with all aspects of society,” Claudio said. “I learned how to act fast. That’s the similarity between the street and racing: You have to make decisions in an instant, and hope that they’re correct.”
In his current role as group marketing manager for GM Racing, Claudio is responsible for making decisions that translate the success of GM’s motorsports programs into success for GM brands in the showroom. While members of his staff focus on NASCAR, NHRA and business development, Claudio concentrates on GM’s extensive road racing programs. He’s a familiar sight in the American Le Mans Series, SCCA SPEED World Challenge, and the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series.
“With more than 20 years in the business, I’ve known many of the movers and shakers in motorsports for a very long time,” he said. “I try to help the people who work for me to understand the personalities involved. My role is like a consultant who shares his experiences.”
Born in 1950, Claudio grew up on Long Island in an auto-obsessed culture that could have inspired a Bruce Springsteen ballad. Late nights at the drag races at New York National Speedway, long days at the Bridgehampton sports car course and frequent visits to the Riverhead Raceway bullring where the NASCAR Modifieds reigned gave Claudio an appreciation for all types of racing.
The summer of 1965 marked a turning point for the young man with gasoline in his veins.
“My Dad pulled up in our driveway in a friend’s red Corvette roadster and said, ‘Son, let’s go for a ride,'” Claudio remembered. “I hopped in the car, we drove to a burger stand for lunch, and we talked and talked for hours. It was a very cool experience for a father and son to share. I’ve been intoxicated with Corvettes ever since.”
It was also a galvanizing experience that sent Claudio on a career path that would ultimately take him to the highest levels of motorsports.
“The next summer I got my first real job pumping gas,” he recalled. “When I graduated to tune-ups and oil changes, I was a very proud 16-year-old.”
Claudio pursued his formal education at State University of New York, earning a degree in economics. He continued his informal education at drag strips throughout the Northeast, campaigning a Super Stock Firebird. With the advent of a marriage and a mortgage, the Firebird was sold and the proceeds invested in landscaping.
Claudio joined GM in 1977, working as a service manager and district manager on Long Island. His tour of duty with GM took him from New York to Charlotte, N.C., Washington D.C., Cincinnati, and Detroit. He worked in GM’s regional office in North Carolina just as NASCAR was becoming a hot property in the late ’80s, forging enduring relationships with track owners and race teams. Claudio headed Pontiac’s motorsports program in 1994, became the chief of the Chevrolet Race Shop in 1997, and joined GM Racing in 1999 when the corporation consolidated its motorsports marketing activities.
Claudio’s career at GM was interrupted by a five-year stint as a police officer that gave him a different perspective than the view from an office cubicle.
“It was 90 percent boredom and 10 percent sheer terror,” Claudio observed. “I started out in uniform and then went into a street crime unit, working from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. I’ve been stabbed, had my arm broken, and been shot at. After I was involved in a gunfight, my wife told me to make a decision – it was either her or the job. I chose her.”
Claudio is still a member of the brothers in blue, volunteering his time at a local police department in Michigan. But he also found another extended family – the tightly knit Corvette Racing team.
“The chemistry within Corvette Racing is something I’d never experienced before,” he observed. “To be part of this team, and to have the latitude within GM to do creative programs that bring GM dealers and fans into the sport, is very rewarding.”
I’s a perfect assignment for a man with a lifelong love for Corvettes. He’s owned 15 examples of the marque. A 1967 Stingray coupe with a 427 ci big-block V-8 currently resides in his garage.
“I’ve owned it for 10 years, and maybe when I retire I’ll restore it,” Claudio laughed. “But for now it’s a driver. Compared to the current generation of Corvettes, it’s primitive and brutal – but the air conditioning works, and it’s very fast.”
If Claudio were an actor, he’d probably be typecast as a hard-nosed precinct captain on “NYPD Blue.” But this tough-talking New Yorker has a soft spot for stray animals and a strong commitment to good works.
“I’m a cancer survivor,” he revealed. “As part of my recovery, I made a deal with the man upstairs that if I lived, I’d try to do something for somebody else. I joined the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, and was paired with 10-year-old Michael Chernenko in 1994. He became the son I never had, and I’ve watched him grow into a fine young man. He’s now at the University of Tennessee, and he’s doing a great job.”
Claudio’s efforts have been recognized. He received the ALMS “From the Fans” award in 2002 for his contributions to sports car racing. He’ll be honored as the “Man of the Year” by the Steuben Association of the Suffolk County (New York) Police Department. His circle of friends has expanded exponentially from the ‘hood in New York.
“I’ve been fortunate to meet guys like Jay Leno, who has a passion for Corvette,” he said. “It was an honor to accompany Gen. Colin Powell when he drove the Corvette Pace Car at the Indianapolis 500. I’ve traveled around the world with the race team, and met thousands of people who are just as passionate about Corvette as I am.
“When I was a kid, I saw the movie ‘Le Mans,’ and dreamed that someday I would go there,” Claudio recalled. “To actually live your dream, racing and winning at Le Mans, is very special.”
It’s a long way from the streets of New York to the top step of the podium in the world’s greatest sports car race. Gary Claudio has taken a remarkable journey – and there are certainly more adventures ahead for this streetwise veteran.
Release Date: September 26, 2005