Gail Truess: Verizon IndyCar Series AMR Safety Team Driver & Mazda Road to Indy Pace Car Driver

My destiny with automobiles is in my DNA, I just never knew it.  I was born and raised in Waterford, MI as the middle kid with two brothers. Dad was an Engineer at General Motors, Mom, CEO of the household.  Childhood was full of adventures of travel, camping and anything to do with water.  Cars didn’t come along until I was at Michigan Technology University in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula.

Accelerate forward to junior year at MTU. The oldest, longest, toughest PRO Rally in the US was held in my small college town. It was called Press On Regardless. My roommate and I found these cars and teams interesting so we became involved with the local car club that hosted the event. Our involvement led to a friendship with a team from New Zealand. One day prior to race weekend we were invited to go tire testing out in the woods. Rally cars race on closed backroads in all conditions, seasons and surfaces. Of course I said yes! It became the life changing sideways three miles that grabbed my being and slid my life in a new direction. I was helmeted, 5 point harnessed into a Mazda RX-7 and taken for the ride of my life! The car was never straight, the sound of the rocks hitting the car deafening. Defining moment was when the driver took the car across a stream on a wooden bridge with the front wheels on one side and the rear tires on the other.  My comment at the end was “I need to do this”. And I did.

I was offered a job out of college with a factory sponsored rally team in Midland, MI. This is a point in my life where circumstances provided opportunity. My rally career had begun and thru our participation at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb we knew Wally Dallenbach Sr, Chief Steward for CART. He brought us into the world of open wheel racing. Our rally team was sponsored by Oldsmobile and this manufacturer was to be the Official Pace Car for the 1985 Indy 500. Our shop was chosen to help with the build of the car, testing at the GM Proving Grounds in Arizona and accompany to the Indy 500. When I attended the Indy 500 with the pace car I saw there was a team of all women race car drivers called the PPG Pace Car Team. They had the best job ever, I have to do this. And I did, 10 years later. I had very little racing experience at that time so I went to work improving my skills. Not just the science of driving but running a business, team logistics and how to promote myself and team. I finally got “the call” and asked to be a member of the PPG Pace Car Team! This group of female racers traveled with the series giving rides at the race tracks in specialty built vehicles provided by the manufacturers. The job evolved into being the actual pace car driver for the races. Life was good, I won a national driver championship in rallying and I was a pace car driver!

Tangents and opportunities kept occurring during this time. We had a client at the rally shop that was doing training for sales consultants at Mercedes Benz. MB recognized in the late 80’s that the female in a relationship was 75% of the decision maker toward a purchase; they needed female driving instructors to train from our perspective. I was invited to a ride and drive program and asked to drive a slalom, I hit every cone! Not a good way to impress someone with my skills.  Fortunately I had many talented mentors who helped me in every way.  I was honored to be chosen and trained to teach these types of programs which I still do today. 

In December of 1997 I got notice that the series I worked for, Champ Car was merging with the Indy Racing League (IRL). Bad news, our pace car team was eliminated, good news, I eventually transferred to IRL and became part of the Safety Team as the driver for the Medical Team. I’ve now been with IndyCar for 10 years. My job has evolved to include my past experience as I now also pace all the races for our support series and give fun rides around the track to our guests.

Back to my DNA. Later in life I learned my Grandfather was instrumental in the creation of the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, MI his brother, my Uncle Ernie a test driver and Dad an Engineer at GM. Was I born to do this? I think so.

Racing is not easy, because… “If it were easy, someone else would be doing it” and always” Play Hard or Go Home”….and on the back of all of my rally cars…”Girls Kick Butt”.