Stefanyshyn’s GM roots to grow NASCAR innovation
July 16, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- It’s been a significant transition thus far for Gene Stefanyshyn, shifting from more than 30 years with General Motors as an executive, designer and technical director to becoming NASCAR’s new Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development in May.
One of the bigger adjustments has been getting used to living much farther south, well removed from the Motor City area of Michigan.
"It’s a huge hire for us. … with his background, when you look at someone who essentially created the Camaro from soup to nuts on the new launch..."
-- NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell
“They promised me the weather was going to be really nice ... I don’t know where all this rain has been coming from, so I don’t know if they were lying to me or not,” Stefanyshyn said Monday at NASCAR’s Research and Development Center, alluding to the heavy rains and flash-flooding that have plagued the Charlotte area in recent weeks.
“But it’s going to be very interesting. Being from the Michigan area, we have a lot of cars there, but here the cars are louder, they go faster and the weather is supposed to be better, so what’s wrong with that, right?”
Weather references aside, the 56-year-old Ontario, Canada native was front and center in meeting the media for the first time, flanked by two close colleagues -- NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell and NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton -- on a day that marked a major climate change for how big-league stock-car racing will be officiated.
While many fans might not be familiar with Stefanyshyn’s name, much less how to pronounce it (it rhymes with “definition”), his handiwork while with GM was iconic. He headed up Chevrolet’s Corvette brand and was largely responsible for reviving the automaker’s Camaro model, combining classic styling cues with modern sports-car looks.
“That was a delicate balance of how do you put a great car on the road, but at the same time, be true to the heritage and culture of that car?” Stefanyshyn said. “I view this as somewhat similar. We’ve got a strong heritage, many years of history here and how do we take it forward, but do it in a way where we’re respectful to the past and the history of the sport. … there’s a good connection between the types of products I worked on, and obviously the products we have on the track here.”
Those credentials weren’t lost on O’Donnell, who will work intimately with Stefanyshyn and Pemberton in bringing sweeping change to NASCAR’s rules process.
“It’s a huge hire for us,” O’Donnell said. “… with his background, when you look at someone who essentially created the Camaro from soup to nuts on the new launch, he’s worked around the world and can work not only with the guy on the line in the manufacturing plant, but has reported in to (former GM Vice Chairman) Bob Lutz as well. He’s got the ability to come out and really talk the talk, but he also knows the process of how to put things in place quickly.”
While the four-pronged competition plan -- which covers the areas of governance, rules, deterrence/penalties and officiating/inspection -- has a gradual 18-month timetable for implementation, Stefanyshyn realizes the task ahead could be potentially daunting, especially when charged with a complete cover-to-cover overhaul of the venerable NASCAR rule book.
“It is going to be large, but it’s like doing a new car,” Stefanyshyn said. “There’s so many degrees of freedom and it can be a bit intimidating, but it’s just a big elephant and you eat it one piece at a time. You think about it, you get some great minds together, you take the problem and you break it into segments and you tackle it.”
With nearly two months on the job, Stefanyshyn still cops to being the “new guy,” as Pemberton put it during Monday’s news conference. But even in that short amount of time, the former designer has basked in the automotive and racing culture.
He also knows that he’s joining NASCAR at a time when the sport is in transition, quicker to explore technology and more open to pulling back the curtain for both casual and die-hard fans to go behind the scenes.
“The world moves, and we need to adapt to our environment,” Stefanyshyn said. “It’s just a natural thing. … for us to embrace that is very exciting, actually. It’ll be great for the sport, and it’ll be great for our organization.”