Don't Tell Her She Can't: Toyota Racing’s Laura Pierce Was Born for Motorsports
The Big Switch: Education To Engineering
Indiana native Laura Pierce was on track to become a teacher upon graduation from high school. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, and teachers were the only other role models for women she knew. Laura’s father, Andy, recognized that her love for math and science might take her on another path, and he introduced her to a female engineer on his team at Subaru. That engineer loved what she did for a living and encouraged Laura to be an engineer, too.
Gently nudging her in that direction, Andy signed his daughter up for a Women in Engineering day at Purdue University in nearby Lafayette. Ultimately, Laura enrolled there as an Industrial Engineering major, and discovered at freshman orientation that fewer than 20% of the students in that program were women.
“It was intimidating when the professor said, ‘Look to your left and to your right; those people will not be there at your graduation,” Laura says. “Not everyone makes it.”
However, Laura’s approach to life is: “If someone says I can’t, that gives me fuel to succeed.”
Encouraging Girls To Pursue Careers In Automotive
The fuel reference is apropos; Laura is now President of Toyota Racing, and her turbo-charged career includes regular speaking engagements at schools and with Girl Scout groups to share her story. To say that Laura is one of the coolest women in the industry is no stretch; she is kind, thoughtful, and has a razor-sharp mind.
“The more we can get girls at an early age to pick the right classes and get everything lined up, the better,” Laura says. “It’s not innate for us to want to take a career in automotive, but they are more likely to try it with a little encouragement.”
Swap Meets And Stock Cars Planted The Seed
As a kid, Laura attended swap meets and antique car shows with her dad, and later joined his pit crew when he raced stock cars on weekends. Her job was to keep an eye on tire temperatures to see where the rubber was wearing on the track and calculate the resulting alignment. Using a specialized gauge, Laura would check the temperatures on the tires and she would mark them down on paper, checking the numbers as she went.
Before she was allowed to get her drivers’ license, Laura’s dad required her to learn how to change her oil and tires.
“I appreciate that now, but I may not have back then,” she laughs.
In fact, it was her father who guided her to Toyota after working for Delphi for several years and then GM. He had been working in the automotive industry for several years, and heard that Toyota was increasing its staff in Erlanger, Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati.
“I think dads play a big role for women discovering what they see in themselves,” Laura says.
I agree; my dad led the impetus for my love of anything automotive, too.