Jamie DiPietro: Neck deep in NASCAR

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

It didn’t happen in Morenci. That’s not where a love for auto racing began for Jamie (Chittenden) DiPietro.

“I was never a NASCAR fan when I lived in Morenci,” she said. “I never even went to MIS for a race.”

It wasn’t at ITT Technical Institute, either. Jamie headed to Ft. Wayne, Ind., after graduation from Morenci Area High School to study electrical engineering at ITT. But not to watch an auto race.

It all began sometime after that, while she was taking classes at Purdue’s Ft. Wayne campus, working toward a degree in supervision. A trip to Florida started it off.jamiedi

“I went to my first race in 1985 in Daytona and was hooked,” Jamie recalls.

But this was just the beginning.

She made it to a race or two every year into the early 1990s when she was working as a CAD designer in Indiana, but she was only up to her knees in NASCAR at that time. She was soon to go waist deep.

Jamie’s future husband worked in the racing business in North Carolina—the nerve center of NASCAR—and she moved there to be closer to him. About 95 percent of the racing teams are based around Charlotte, she said.

“I tried to keep working as an engineer, but there just weren’t that many electrical engineering companies in the Charlotte area,” she said. “It’s mostly tobacco and clothing manufacturing—and racing.”

Jamie found work with an architectural firm, but she started working weekends at the track with the Buckshot Jones racing team.

“I worked for Buckshot for five years,” she said. “I spent the first three years managing his merchandising program.”

Over the next two years she served as an intermediary between the Buckshot Racing Team and its owner, Buckshot’s father Billy, who was involved in several other companies. This plunged her a little deeper into NASCAR.

She was now going to the track every weekend with the Busch Racing team and working directly with crew chief Gary Cogswell and NASCAR’s Busch Series director, John Darby.

Eventually, Buckshot’s team folded due to lack of sponsorship, but now Jamie had contacts.

She handed a résumé to Darby, who was about to earn a promotion to director of the Winston Cup Series. Of course the résumé mentioned her engineering background.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

Safety inspector

“John thought that with my engineering background, I would be a good fit for the newly created position in the safety department as a field inspector,” she said.

Driver safety has been a concern of NASCAR officials for more than 50 years, Scott Bowman of the public relations department said, but as more and more safety efforts were put into place, the need for a full-time team of field inspectors became apparent.

For the 2002 season, Jamie was hired to serve as one of six full-time inspectors working the National Series—Winston Cup, Busch and Trucks. This year, the team grew to eight.

A year ago, she was promoted to the role of primary field inspector for the Winston Cup Series. Before the season ended, she became head of the safety team for all NASCAR events.

“Whenever we race in conjunction events with any other NASCAR series,” she said, “I’m the lead inspector for the entire weekend.”

The bulk of Jamie’s work takes place inside the garage where she looks over each vehicle before it’s allowed to race. Currently, she’s the only woman inside a NASCAR garage with the authority to make a Winston Cup Series team change its car before gaining access to the track.

First comes a visual inspection of safety systems.

“We look at the driver cockpit for areas of concern,” she explained. “We look at the tethers for the hood and rear deck lids. We make sure anything a driver can potentially hit with a part of his body in a crash is padded.

“Anything that can be contrived as a safety mechanism goes through our department.”

That includes IDRs, the incident data recorders that made their debut in auto racing last season. Information from the IDRs is helping NASCAR build a database to study how the chassis, seats, helmets, the new head and neck restraint system, etc., respond in crashes.

“The company that created the IDRs has trained us in how to read and disseminate data from the boxes,” Jamie said. “The information will be used to make recommendations and rule changes to make cars safer.”

Once an inspection is complete, Jamie’s staff begins collecting data.

“We write down every piece of safety equipment in a car, and we take a series of measurements in the driver’s compartment area.”

These measurements would be compared with those taken later if a car were involved in an accident.

Jamie’s department is also involved in the training of emergency personnel at each track. Medics, EMTs, fire staff, wrecker drivers, clean-up crew—training is scheduled at every track for these workers.

“We show them how every piece of safety equipment in a car works and the quickest and easiest way to disconnect it to get a driver out,” she said.

Jamie told a reporter from the Daytona Beach News-Journal that she doesn’t consider herself a ground breaker as the rare woman in the garage, although she likes the idea of serving in that role.

She’s just doing her job, she says, and maybe that will open the door for other women to follow.

She’s certainly become a familiar face wherever the Winston Cup circuit travels. As chief inspector, she’s on the job at every stop on the 38-race schedule.

It’s an enormous change from her days in Morenci and at ITT when she never gave a second thought to auto racing.

You might say that Jamie DiPietro is now about neck deep in NASCAR.

    - April 2, 2003 
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016