Editor's note: Tessa Brelia's team will compete in the inaugural

Champ Car World Series Bridgestone 400 Presented By Corona Sept. 25



From firefighter dreams to mechanical reality:

Tessa Brelia defines a woman¿s passion in a male-dominated world


By BranDee Waters


In the motorsports industrywomen are equal to men in many departments including management, marketing, public relations and sponsorships. However, in the mechanical arenait is male-dominated and few women hold positionas mechanics and over-the-wall crew members in any racing series. 

Tessa Brelia is the rear-end mechanic on the No. 55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola of Mario Dominguez in the Champ Car World Series.

Tess, as she is most commonly known, had dreams of becoming a firefighter in her hometown of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After her life-long dream was crushed by a long waiting list, she decided to attend the Bridgestone Racing Academy¿s Mechanics Training Program in Canada. She had been fond of motorcycles since childhood and decided to hone her mechanic skills.

¿There was a really long list for the fire department. I had been into motorcycles all my life, so I thought it would be good to go to school and learn to fix by bike. I enrolled in the mechanics school,¿ said Brelia.

During her schooling in 1998, Brelia volunteered with Binder Racing¿s Toyota Atlantic team. A month after working with the team, she was offered a job as a mechanic.

¿I actually never graduated. I got a job before school ended,¿ said Brelia.

In 1999, Brelia made the switch from open-wheel racing to stock-car racing and worked for Butch Gilliland¿s NASCAR Winston West Series team.

In 2000, Brelia moved back to the open-wheel circuit with Brian Stewart Racing, a prominent team in the Indy Lights Series.

For the next two years, Brelia worked for Doricott Racing. She has two championships under her belt with Townsend Bell in the Indy Lights (2001) and with John Fogarty in the Toyota Atlantic Series (2002).

Last year, Tess went to work for the Champ Car World Series American Spirit team Johansson with driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. It was with American Spirit that she made Champ Car history by becoming the first woman to be a full-time mechanic and to perform over-the-wall duties. Brelia was the front-end mechanic and front-inside tire changer.

For the 2004 season, Brelia signed on as the rear-end mechanic for Herdez. The team was already set upon her arrival therefore Brelia doesn¿t have over-the-wall duties this year. However, the 34-year-old is the back up if a crew member cannot perform his duties.

¿I pretty much work on everything from the rollhoop back,¿ said Brelia. ¿I¿ve been practicing doing outside rear and basically every over-the-wall position because I¿m the backup person if someone gets hurt.¿

Although she has more responsibility this year with the rear-end duties, Brelia misses the adrenaline rush and prestige that come with that of over-the-wall duties.

¿During race days it can be boring because I¿m not going over-the-wall,¿ said Brelia. ¿If I¿ve never been over the wall it wouldn¿t be so bad, but having been there doing a whole year of it, I miss it a lot.¿

When it comes to female versus male in the mechanic position, it isn¿t an issue for Brelia or the team.

¿This team is really good. I think winning the two championships helped show that I¿m not there for anything but to work. They are great, everyone treats me really well and they treat me as bad as everyone else,¿ laughed Tess. ¿It¿s not a hard environment to work in. I think you just have to have thick skin, everyone always jokes around. If you can¿t take the joking and ribbing you will be miserable because no one is exempt from it. If you screw up everyone is going to ride you about it for a long time. It¿s great. I love it, definitely love it.¿

Brelia admits that some tasks are more difficult for her than for a man.

¿It¿s the physical part. Men are generally stronger, but I think you learn how to do things and make things easier for yourself, otherwise I think it is always the same,¿ said Brelia. ¿Some of the things are obviously harder for me than a 220 pound guy.¿

Dominguez views Brelia as just one of the guys out there to compete and be the best in the series.

¿I think it is great. It doesn¿t really matter that she is a woman. She is very professional and does everything properly just like any other mechanic out there,¿ said Dominquez.¿ We get along really well. She is like one of the guys really. We work very well as a team and everyone gets along great.¿

It was hard for Brelia to break into the motorsports industry. She took the daunted, tiresome challenge and made a career for herself in a man¿s world.

¿At first it was really hard. I think it was just finding one person who believed in me, like when I worked on the Atlantic team,¿ said Brelia. ¿You keep working at it. It took a lot; there where a lot of places I was applying six, seven, eight times and finally it came around. You just keep trying.

¿I really wasn¿t expecting to get what I have out of it (mechanics school). I love my career. It is a lot of work, a lot of hours. It is one of those things that if you don¿t love it, you should find something else because it is pretty consuming.¿

Brelia truly enjoys her line of work and doesn¿t regret her decision to move into the world of auto racing rather than her initial dream of firefighting.

¿I think once you get into the business it gets into your blood. I really like the people. I like everyone whom I have met through racing and the whole experience has been great so far,¿ said Brelia. ¿I definitely don¿t regret the decision not to stick with firefighting.¿

It was a rough road to get where she is today, but Brelia believes that once a woman has succeeded in any profession, more women will be accepted.

¿It¿s getting more commonplace for a woman to work in a man¿s world. I think that once one person does it, then people become more open to hiring women,¿ said Brelia.

¿It definitely isn¿t a very woman-oriented profession, but if any other girl works as hard as Tess does, it would never be a problem,¿ said Dominquez.

For those women looking to get into auto mechanics, Brelia has some advice for you, ¿Go to a race school, start there because you can get practical training just the basic stuff and then keep knocking on people¿s doors, talk to people and get to know people. Just keep bugging them.¿