When it comes to taking a unique path into motorsports, 34-year-old Samantha Bernard’s route into NASCAR proves most unique.
Prior to taking on her role as a tire compound engineer for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 2014, Bernard graduated from Mount Union College with a BS in Biology. The former diving team captain parlayed her passion for science when she earned her opportunity with Goodyear initially as a materials engineer in 2011.
About three and a half years later, Bernard was named to her role as a tire compound engineer. While she may not be an over the wall pit crew member, much less, a racer in those hot tin cans circling the racetrack, she’s a valued member of the racing community.
Diligent, savvy and focused, Bernard represents the new, evolved look of NASCAR in terms of an inclusive environment. She’s earned the praises of her fellow comrades from various Cup Series teams.
Justin Grosser, a tire specialist for Front Row Motorsports, commends Bernard’s candor and thoroughness.
“She’s committed 100% to her role with Goodyear,” Grosser said. “Even on days when perhaps there is no engineering staff at the track, on a tech day or maybe when you just can’t seem to find anybody, I know she’s only a text away and no matter what she’s got going on, she’s willing to take a second to give her opinion.
“Sam has saved my ass, and possibly the entire 38 team’s ass on multiple occasions when we may have been headed down a road that could have led to tire failure during an event.”
As Cesar Villanueva, a tire specialist and interior mechanic for Kyle Larson’s No. 5 team attests, Bernard is resourceful and approachable.
“She is a regular fixture in the NASCAR garage,” Villanueva observed. “It’s fairly easy to work with her and the rest of the goodyear engineers. If I have any questions or concerns I could go straight to Sam with no problem. Also usually after practices she would come by and double check if our tires are alright and not showing any unusual wear.”
Andy Flynn, a tire specialist with Team Penske, applauds Bernard for going above and beyond with her role, ensuring his team understands the limits with the tires.
“Her dedication to her job and to make sure information is relayed properly to the teams about certain situations that arise with tires,” he said. “She is outgoing and a person all teams in the garage area look to for answers or to ask questions and receive a proper and detailed answer. I appreciate that she is always striving to help either give you an answer about a tire situation or to find out the cause of the situation even after the event whether it be testing, practicing or a racing situation.”
Bernard’s story is truly unique in terms of how she parlayed science, one of her passions, into her role with Goodyear. Recently catching up with the Northfield, Ohio native, Bernard shares her perspectives about her thriving career and much more. Let’s learn about “Life in the Pits with Samantha Bernard” here on The Podium Finish!
Rob Tiongson : You are a tire engineer for Goodyear Racing, a role you’ve worked since 2014. What’s the basic tasks and operations of your role?
Samantha Bernard : I design all of the rubber compounds in NASCAR tires. We are also continuously trying to improve our tires, which means running studies in the lab and doing ongoing testing to manipulate the physical properties of the rubber.
Depending on the goal, we can take these development compounds to the racetrack for testing, as well as build tires for in-house testing. I’m also in charge of supporting and maintaining the fabrics inside the carcass of the tires.
Tiongson : What piqued your interest to pursue your role and what was it like to acclimate to being a part of the NASCAR community?
Bernard : Honestly, I wasn’t interested in NASCAR specifically when I applied for my current role. I was in charge of raw materials at the time, and there were a few open positions in NASCAR as well as sport/drag racing. I wanted to try something different and there hadn’t been a women in racing in 20 years, so it seemed like a challenge. Now, we have three out of four compound engineers on my team that are women.
At the racetrack, it too a little while to learn how to gain respect and have teams talk to me about tires. Everyone is friendly, but wanted to talk about the weather rather than the technical aspect of the tires. I spent a lot of time knowing our product inside and out at every track and test I went to, as well as constantly walking around the garage during race weekends and getting to know the people I needed to work with.
Having face time and being seen, as well as being able to discuss the tires at a highly technical level with crew chiefs and engineers helped form a relationship with all of the teams. Doing all of this helped build the confidence I needed at the racetrack, and after some time, I gained the respect of everyone in the garage.
Tiongson : While most focus on the drivers and teams, you and the Goodyear Racing team play a pivotal role with ensuring a quality, on track product. How would you describe the collaborative process with teams and Goodyear?
Bernard : Teams are always pushing the competitive edge, but no one wants to have issues on race weekend. We share a lot of tire testing data we do in Akron before races. We also talk to teams during the weekend and field questions during the week giving our best technical advice.
Tiongson : NASCAR has ramped up its diversity efforts in recent times. What’s your thoughts on seeing more women and people of color earning their roles in the series?
Bernard : I’d love to see it! Honestly, there are more and more people breaking the mold and I love it. I know how hard we work to get here, and I appreciate and support everyone of color or gender trying to make it and a bigger shoutout to those who have! It’s a great community to be a part of, and I respect every single person who has tried or who has succeeded. It isn’t easy, but we all deserve the acknowledgement for the hard work we put in regardless.
Tiongson : How do you handle the ups and downs of NASCAR especially with the long schedule and traveling that you and your teammates do each season?
Bernard : This is a tough one! Honestly, one thing that really helps my team specifically is that we are all close. We can talk about things on and off the track. If there are issues, we are 100% together on it.
Tiongson : When you consider your journey in NASCAR, what advice would you give your younger self in terms of confidence and adjusting to NASCAR?
Bernard : Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I think when I first started doing this, I was afraid that asking questions would mean I would be respected less. I know that is not the case now, and people are more than happy to help answer questions without judgement.
Tiongson : NASCAR Cup Series pit crews are adjusting to the new one lugnut styled wheels for this year. How much of a game changer is it for tire changers and pit crews to adjust to the new, one lugnut wheels?
Bernard : I think there will definitely be a learning curve, as we saw in the Daytona 500 when two teams lost wheels. Teams will need to make sure they’re getting those wheels centered and tight!
Tiongson : I always enjoy asking you questions about music. If you had a quintessential theme song that described you to a tee, what song would that be?
Bernard : “Follow Your Arrow” by Kasey Musgraves. It’s a newer song but the basic gist of it is: Don’t listen to what other people have to say, do what makes you happy.
Tiongson : What has to be the most unusual fan experience you’ve had so far at the track?
Bernard : Once at Michigan, we were taking tire temps on pit road. A fan was asking questions about what we were doing, so I was explaining that. A few cars pulled up and I had to go take their tire temperatures so our conversation got cut short.
I saw the guy later in the garage after practice and he scolded me for leaving in the middle of our conversation. It was kind of funny and odd, because obviously my job comes first. And, also, this guy had zero understanding of that.
Tiongson : When you’ve had to describe NASCAR to family and friends, including those outside of the sport, what are some words you commonly use to convey the ambiance and dynamics of racing, particularly at the track?
Bernard : A lot of my family and friends have zero interest in racing, which is perfectly fine! But I always try to convey that it’s more than “cars turning left.” And that when you’re there at the racetrack with the cars right in front of you, the experience is totally different than on TV. So I’d use words like “engineering,” “team work,” “speed” and ”powerful.”
Special thanks to Samantha Bernard for taking the time to talk to us on The Podium Finish! Looking forward to a follow up later this season with Samantha here on TPF.