ANN ARBOR, MI --
In front of a standing-room-only crowd during the AERA Show in Las Vegas last week, four female engine builders proved they were up to the task of their first-ever Clevite Engine Builder Challenge.
Clevite Engine Parts has sponsored the Clevite Engine Builder Challenge Series since 1990 and has hosted the event at industry trade shows, conferences, race tracks and open house events for customers - but this was the first build to feature women only.
Sandi Holder, of Holder Automotive Machine, and Becky Tardif, of Accurate Cylinderhead Service, Inc., narrowly bested the time of Susan Deegan, of Engine Lab of Tampa, and Gail Ault, of Ault and James, with a build time of under 43 minutes - but all four women scored a huge victory.
“This was by far the best experience I’ve ever had in the automotive industry,” said Holder. “Going in, I was nervous, mostly because of the number of tools involved in the build. But, after tearing down the engine twice beforehand, I felt good about it.” Holder said the experience was a real adrenaline rush and next to being a wife and a mom, to hear the 357 cubic inch Ford engine fire up was one of her biggest personal accomplishments.
Tardif said this build was one of the most exciting experiences she’s had as a machinist in the past 20 years. “We went in wanting to make women look good and show what we can do within this industry, and we’re so excited that it went so well.”
Holder and Tardif were coached by Kevin Webber, Clevite Engine Builder Showdown participant and engine builder from Hendrick Motorsports. Webber said when he thinks about coaching Becky and Sandi in the first ever Women’s Engine Builder Challenge two words come to mind - respect and admiration. “These ladies performed this build before a large crowd; they never lost their cool and did an incredible job. That truly impressed me.”
Deegan and Ault were coached by Joe London, Clevite Engine Builder Showdown participant and engine builder for Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated and Chance2 Motorsports.
"Gail and Susan made my job of coaching them very easy by listening and communicating with each other," said London. "When the challenge was over, you could see the satisfaction on their faces and appreciate their sense of accomplishment. After 12 years in racing, I had always hoped to help someone like others have helped me. Gail, Susan, Becky and Sandi should be proud of their accomplishments - as they are all champions."
“I was so honored to be part of this phenomenal experience,” said Deegan. “This had never been done before and to be chosen to participate in something that shows how vital women are to the industry - and not just as secretaries or bookkeepers - made it all the more special.”
Ault was thankful for Clevite’s asking her to participate in this event. “This has done so much for me personally - in terms of boosting my confidence - it was a huge personal victory for me and I would definitely do it again.”
Familiar female industry faces were in attendance at the challenge, including Becky Babcox, group publisher of Babcox Publications, who noted what a historical event this was. “For something like this to happen was amazing,” said Babcox. “The whole crowd was cheering and pulling for these women and when the smoke cleared there were a lot of hugs and a real sense of accomplishment for women in the industry.”
Deegan added that the role that Clevite took in establishing this challenge was something that no one else had ever stepped up to do. “I’m sure it was a big risk, said Deegan, “but it paid off. It not only showed the quality of their product, but the caliber of their character in this industry.”
“The women took this competition very seriously and they were even hanging around the engine build area to help us tear them down,” said Ron Sledge, motorsports manager for Clevite Engine Parts. “It was very exciting because the crowd was very much behind them - the intensity of the crowd as they were watching the event unfold was amazing.”
Tardif said that, afterward, a lot of women came up to them to shake their hands and congratulate them. “You could tell they shared in our sense of accomplishment,” she said.
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