At only 34, Laura Klauser has become the sports car racing program manager at General Motors.
Sports car racing involves taking a production car and turning it into an ultra-fast race car that strips out all the luxuries (like climate control) and packs it with aerodynamics and roll bars. Then, those cars compete against other cars that have undergone the same process. And fielding one of those sports car racing teams is no easy task, one that’s often reserved for people who have decades of experience.
Klauser got the job after eight years in production cars.
Now, she’s transforming already-speedy Corvettes into race-ready machines by managing budgets, organizing tech and parts suppliers, and bringing together people from all over the world.
Dreams Come True
For as long as she can remember, Laura wanted to work on cars.
“At about the age 13, I decided that I wanted to work for one of the big three: GM, Ford or Chrysler. And I wanted to be a part of working on cars,” she told me in a recent interview. Laura knew the importance of cars, the way they become a necessity. She and her family grew up on a large piece of property in rural Maryland, and she needed a car to get just about anywhere. Add to that the fact that she loved tinkering with her family’s tractor, and Laura was set up for success.
Well, almost. What she really wanted to do was become a mechanic, but her father — an electrician — wanted her to pursue a more lucrative trade. So, she went to school for a degree in mechanical engineering and found a career at General Motors after graduation.
A Past in Production Cars
Laura didn’t just start out working on race cars, though. Instead, she spent eight years working on different aspects of GM’s production cars, or the ones that you and I buy and drive on a daily basis. She worked on different cars — the Corvette C7, the Cadillac CT6, the Sonic, and more. And while she frequently changed titles, Laura spent a lot of time turning soft phrases — things like “I want something fast” or “this is too harsh” — into quantifiable engineering metrics, like a certain zero-to-60 speed or a suspension setting.
Interestingly enough, that helped Klauser become uniquely qualified for her career. She told me that working on production cars was far harder than working on a race car because the driver base is so diverse that it’s impossible to please everyone. But she also learned valuable information about how to take nonspecific feedback and transform it into something tangible.
Surrounded By Powerful Women
While the women in her family could be seen as fulfilling more traditional feminine roles as wives and mothers, Laura takes a different view. Instead, she sees powerful women who provided what they could for their growing families.
“My grandmother, she was the very first woman in the neighborhood that she lived in to wear pants,” Laura said, the smile evident in her voice. “She could do anything. She taught herself to drive. My grandfather, after the Navy took a job on ships, moving them back and forth across the Atlantic and she was at home with two kids running a farm. She was awesome. Talk about a badass.
“And then she was very loving and definitely she honored that respect thy neighbor; look out for others and all of that to a T. She was just a really good person. My mother got a lot of her traits as well. My mom was tough, and she was a homemaker, but she was the toughest person I still know to this day and cancer survivor; kicked that in the butt. She pushed to make sure that the household always had what we needed.”
Of course, Laura has a lot of respect for the men in her family. Her father, she said, was the kind of man who was always working with his hands, which taught Laura a deep respect for craft — something she carried with her into her automotive career.
Defining a Place for Women
“When you get the opportunity to be in a higher position, you have to understand the responsibility that comes with that,” Laura said when I asked her about her experience as a woman in the automotive sector and if she feels she needs to take other women under her wing.
Motorsport is traditionally dominated by men, be they drivers, engineers, or team personnel. Laura pointed out that this is largely because the pool of talent stays small; a mechanic who joins a race team will probably stay in racing for decades because they have a very specific set of skills. Those people are often men, as certain forms of motorsport only started allowing women to take part in a few decades ago.
So, Laura looks to the future. She advocates for getting women interested in motorsport as early as possible. If a girl wants to be a driver, Laura wants her in a go-kart. If that girl wants to be an engineer, Laura wants to see teachers, family, and initiatives encouraging her love of STEM. But most of all, Laura wants young girls to realize that there are countless possibilities open to them — ones they may not have known existed or dared not dream about.
Where She Goes From Here
When it comes to the future, Laura has one goal in mind: The 24 Hours of Le Mans, or the biggest sports car race in the world. And she’s getting there. She’s helping GM develop the car that will compete at the iconic French race — and if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Laura.
Laura isn’t afraid to point out her skills. She’s organized and loves making the most of a budget’s tight restraints. She likes connecting two people who have the same goal, then providing them with the means to achieve their dream. She likes keeping her team motivated and encouraging them to keep pushing, even on the hardest days. And that, she thinks, is what will help her win Le Mans.