CHAMPCAR/CART: Mary Wroten Works to Keep Champ Chars Safe

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Mary Wroten never gave much thought to working in the auto industry until one month before her 21st birthday. Traveling on an interstate in Michigan Wroten was involved in a serious auto accident leaving her with a ...

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Mary Wroten never gave much thought to working in the auto industry until one month before her 21st birthday. Traveling on an interstate in Michigan Wroten was involved in a serious auto accident leaving her with a broken back. Wroten, an avid softball player, spent months after her accident in an extensive physical therapy program which left her confined to a back brace for six months. During the time spent in the hospital and the hours of physical therapy that followed, Wroten, then a mechanical engineering student at Michigan State University, made the decision to pursue a career in the auto industry. She wanted to ensure that her family and friends would never have to go through the pain and physical therapy she endured after her auto accident. "When I was in the hospital after my accident I decided I wanted to make a difference and know that one day I am going to save someone's life," said Wroten. A graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in biomedical science, Wroten, now 25, works as a crash development engineer in Ford's vehicle crash safety program. Wroten's number one job responsibility is to deliver five-star rated vehicles - the highest government safety rating attainable - and is looking to Ford's involvement in racing to help her reach those lofty goals. Wroten, in conjunction with her primary safety role, also pulls double duty as the lead project engineer for Ford Racing Advanced Technology's Impact Sensor Program, a joint safety program between CART and Ford Racing to explore the tolerances of the human body. Wroten is responsible for gathering the data from in-car impact recorders, or "blue boxes" which are similar in concept and design to the black boxes used to reconstruct airplane crashes. At the track, Wroten's job begins when a race driver's ends, after an accident. Within minutes of the car returning to the garage Wroten grabs her laptop computer and is off to download the crash data from the recorder.

"Having the means to acquire data from actual humans is something that you are not going to get volunteers for," said Wroten, "Unfortunately, there are accidents in racing, and if it's going to happen we should take advantage of what can be learned for it." "These recorders not only help us improve the safety of Champ Cars but it also sheds light into the tolerances of the human body," said Wroten, "It's amazing to learn what the human body can tolerate and what it's limits are." The information that is being gathered from two years of racing accidents is helping Ford engineers refine, validate and test new models to enhance the way Ford crash tests vehicles. Racing is a fraternity, and a primarily male one at that, and like a fraternity it took the team engineers a while to understand what exactly Wroten was doing in the cockpit of their cars. "Although all of the drivers are male, and most of the team engineers and mechanics are male, they have been very helpful and understanding of the job I do. Being a woman in this job can be difficult at times. When I first started there was a little bit of eyebrow raising by some of the male team members, but that quickly went away once they understood what I was there to do." Wroten, who is a self-proclaimed race fan, had found the assignment very rewarding. "Now when there is an accident the teams expect to see me. I think, if anything, they are surprised to learn exactly what I am doing with the information I am getting from the cars and drivers," said Wroten. When Wroten isn't examining smashed race cars she has found her way back to the softball diamond and has set a goal of smashing something else this year. "I want to hit a homer clear out of the park this year. I've come close before, but this year I want to hit one over the fence," said Wroten. Mary, we wish you luck.

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Series IndyCar