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Challenging the notion of `good ol' boy'

Colon, GM's program manager for 21 Nextel Cup teams, fights to forefront

March 07, 2007|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

The first time Colon met driver Ward Burton, for example, slow-drawling Burton threw his hands up in disgust, saying he couldn't understand a thing she was saying.

"What do you think?" Colon shot back. "Everybody can understand you?"

Although engineers aren't well known to NASCAR fans, they are far from anonymous in the garages, where their computer-assisted work on engines, aerodynamics and other technical issues are critical to keeping cars competitive. And as GM's program manager, Colon also serves as the liaison between Chevy's teams and the NASCAR hierarchy.

"She doesn't have the easiest job in the world, I can tell you that," says Knaus. "She has to deal with NASCAR and she's got to deal with competitors. She's in the middle of that and it's a tough place to be."

Yet, she has won respect on both sides. Knaus calls her "extremely valuable" and NASCAR rules chief Robin Pemberton calls her "one of the most well respected people in the garages."

For Colon, however, the greatest compliment is that, even though she's one of the few people wearing lipstick along pit road, no one looks at her as a woman anymore.

"She's just Alba at this point," says Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR's managing director of public affairs. "She's a part of the community now."

Even the Intimidator came to that conclusion. Shortly before his death in a last-lap crash during the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt sought out Colon.

"I knew you could do it," he told her. And this time he was smiling.

"It was awesome," Colon remembers. "It makes you feel like you finally made it. You're doing good.

"I feel like one of the guys. In a good way. People know -- they respect what you can do for them. They understand why you are here. And you are treated the same."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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