It’s Bridget Bell, and I’m on holidays. So naturally I’m catching up on some writing that I have been putting off all year.
Back in April, around the same time as I was focusing on the Drag Racing Grand Finals in Perth, training for the Women’s State Sailing Championships and started volunteering at the Bayswater Women’s Hub, I was blessed with the opportunity at 6am one Saturday morning to catch Alyson just before she was due to kick off a day of Team Manager-ing in (R)Adelaide.
The self confessed “slip under the radar type person” with an inspiring career in Motorsport was unguarded, revealing and candid in her sharing story of hard work, enthusiasm and seizing opportunities to learn from everything she has been exposed to.
Allow me to introduce this week’s Flash Femme, Team Manager of MARC Cars, Alyson Fradgley.
You got your start about 18 years ago with Paul Morris, is that right?
“Yeah, 17 or 18 years ago now, end of 2004. I did a business degree at Griffiths with a Major in Sports Management. Part of that was that I had to get 200 hours of work experience to have my Major signed off. I happened to go to the Gold Coast for the Indy Gold Coast 600 one year with all of my mates. I was into motorsport but I wasn’t really into it, like I would watch the Formula1, I went to Indy and did things like that.”
I feel like that is the vibe with the Gold Coast though, when Indy’s in town, that is where the party is, you’re young, you’re at Uni…
“And that’s exactly what it was, I didn’t go saying ‘Oh my gosh, I want to meet all the teams and I want to get autographs from the drivers’. That wasn’t me. I was happy to watch cars go around and have a drink at the end of the day with my mates.”
“I went one year and one of my mates was talking about my degree and I explained that I had to get work experience in a sport, some sport, I had no idea what to do. He said to me ‘I bet you couldn’t get work experience in a Supercar team’ or words along those lines, and me being me went ‘Watch me go, watch me go get that’. He just challenged me to something that was probably unattainable, a definite can’t do that.”
That’s amazing, when you’re supported and people are gassing you up you’ll hesitate, but as soon as someone disbelieves and says that you can’t do something…
“Like when your mother says ‘don’t go and get a tattoo, and you turn around and go ‘Watch me’ and you roll down the road to get a tattoo, that’s exactly how I ended up with my first tattoo. Basically the same analogy.”
We’re going to circle back to this. It’s so relatable.
“So it was a bit of a ‘challenge accepted’ moment. I emailed a letter to every race team in Queensland that I could, thinking they’re not even going to pick this letter up” Alyson recalls. “I thought this is either going to go straight to spam or they’re not even going to look at it.”
But the world was so different back then, emails were so formal.
“It was very formal and it just so happened that Paul Morris Motorsport at the time, over the Christmas break had limited staff. They needed things doing like an inventory of all their tools and parts, things like that done. So they’ve decided to get the work experience kid to do it, ‘She’ll work it out’. I don’t think they realised that they had a person that had no idea about cars or any mechanical experience. Zero knowledge.”
“And to be honest the first day I rocked up, I was in a skirt with a nice corporate top and I was like ‘I’m here, I’m ready for my first day’. After that I thought ‘I’d better go and get some shorts and a shirt and dial back the girly’.”
“So that’s where it started, I spent three or four months just working in the parts store doing mundane things like labelling bolt walls and getting that horribly wrong and having to do it all over again.”
I feel like that was a really formative, character building moment for you?
“That was a real soul crushing moment, there was this giant bolt wall, with four compartments of bolts per box, fine, metric, imperial and I had no idea what I was doing so I was working it out as I went and I put them all in the wrong order, big to small, the wrong way around. When they came back to look at it, they said ‘You need to rip all of those stickers off and do it all over again, it’s all wrong’.”
“It was a bit of a baptism of fire, I had to learn really quickly. It just so happened that the person I was working under there was Ryan McLeod, I went on to work with him at Racer Industries, Project Mu and MARC Cars. He basically gave me a go, he went to Nigel who was the Team Manager at Paul Morris Motorsport then and rallied to give me a job.”
It’s a real unskilled labour role.
“At the time I thought, ‘Why not give it a go?’. I had sort of got a bit excited about it by then, I thought ‘This would be a bit cool, working in a Supercar team”
This wasn’t what you’d been studying for? Was it even close?
“I had studied a business degree with sports management. No, not even close.”
Was it just that you had the agency to realise you were working with a V8 Supercar team?
“Kind of, I think when I did my degree I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to do. I liked sports and I was a bit of a tomboy. I always loved sport and organising things, I was a big person for the background organisation side of stuff. I never liked being the front person, so to me, even working in the background of the team, running around picking up parts and working the parts store, talking to the guys, that was sort of ‘This is me, I don’t have to be at the front of anything…’.”
Or sit and answer questions from journalists?
Alyson laughs out loud explaining “I don’t do this, I’ve never done this really before.”
“I just fit in to that role, I felt good about it like I could really learn a lot and I seemed to pick it up fairly quickly considering I had no mechanical knowledge. And the guys really just gave me a go. I think they could see that I was fairly easy going, that nothing really phased me too much and I’d just get in there and get the job done. If they needed cars pushed, I’d get in there and help push cars, if they were packing the truck, I was in the truck, helping pack. I never tried to seem like I couldn’t do anything, I always got in there and gave it a go. I think the team agreed I wasn’t too precious”
I feel like that whole mood that you are portraying is really valuable in the industry, people that have consequential thinking, don’t complain and will throw themselves into tasks. Being someone who is dependable in that space to just get stuff done.
“That’s all I do, I’m a problem solver. I put fires out or I solve problems on the fly and that has always been my strong point. I think people think ‘Just give it to Al, she’ll sort it out’. Basic example; a couple of days ago we were short a sensor in our spares so I ran down to five other teams to see if I could find one to keep a car going. You’ve just got to do it, you just have to find a way to keep everyone moving forward.”
“I stayed with Paul Morris for three years. I helped the Logistics Manager with all of their admin, like booking flights, so I got a taste of all of that. I also kept running the parts store after a while so that helped me with the mechanical side of things, at least the parts. I didn’t know exactly how everything worked but I could identify what all the parts were or what they needed. Knowing the five different names for one part, which still gets me to this day.”
I literally had that same discussion this week but with tractors.
“So then Ryan McLeod left Paul Morris Motorsport and started Racer Industries. And twelve months after he started Racer he asked me to come onboard, ‘I need someone like you who can do all the freight, parts ordering, deal with customers’. I had become that all-rounder person, I could do a bit of everything.”
“I wasn’t pigeon holing myself into one path. So I went and worked for him for ten years, for Racer Industries, Project Mu and then eventually he started MARC Cars.
“I always wanted to get back into racing. I’d also done some data training with MoTec, because I always wanted to go to the racetrack and travel around. My focus was eventually to be managing a team.”
“In the background I just kept all the parts rolling in for the car builds.”
“I didn’t realise at the time, I thought I’d just be that person back at HQ that kept everyone moving, but then Ryan suggested that I should come away with them, as he had drivers that needed looking after and general admin for race meetings, scrutineering, marshals, timing and all of that. All that stuff that you end up doing 50,000 steps per day because you’re running up and down pit-lane, up to timing, back from timing” Alyson creases up affably.
“So I think he just thought ‘She can do it’ even though I’d never done it before.”
I guess at that stage, you knew everyone on the team and everything that you needed to keep everyone moving forward?
“Yeah, and I thought, ‘Well if it gets me back to a race track, cool, why not, I’ll give that a go’.”
“From there I became an assistant to Ryan for the entire race weekend, but he’d also throw me into random jobs. I have been car controller for nearly everyone at some stage. I then started doing a little bit of race management and now I’m Team Manager under the new team owner Geoff Taunton – I also oversee the running of a car that’s here [in Adelaide], run it during the races, do a bit of data and driver coaching, stuff like that. My role has evolved over time.”
You’ve been with MARC Cars since its inception a decade ago.
“Since 2013, yes it’s 10 years next year”
So big party next year then.
“It is! I didn’t even realise.”
Sorry to add another task to your list. You must have seen a bit over that time, you’ve evolved three different chassis with different engine combos.
“We had the MARC 1 which was the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 body with the 5L Coyote, and then the MARC 2 was born based on the Mustang platform with the 5.2L Coyote. Now the MARC GT which is coming on-line this year has the LS. We shifted to the LS purely for accessibility of parts and low cost, but there are many other factors as well.”
The LS platform are renown for producing reliable horsepower.
“We can turn it up quite easily, without huge capital investment. Which is what our concept has always been about, efficient, cost effective racing. That’s why MARC 1 was born of OEM Ford and Mazda panels that you could basically go down to your local dealer if you smashed you door, get a Mazda 3 door and chuck it on your car and away you go again.”
“The idea started because when racing overseas, if something happened and we didn’t have all the spare parts, we could go out to the hire car in the carpark and “borrow” a headlight or a mirror. We’ve definitely done it before just to get the car going again. We spent 2 years racing around the world and some of those locations are really remote, you can’t always have every spare part, or sometimes you’ve come from another track the week before and you’ve used all your spares.”
“Part of why/how the MARC 1 was a Focus and a Mazda was because it was so accessible.”
“The MARC 2 was born because everyone wanted a bit more. They wanted more aero, they wanted a lighter car, they wanted more speed, more of a GT style car. So it’s just as good as a GT car, but it’s under half the buy-in and a third of the cost to run. For drivers of all levels, it’s a great option.”
“The MARC GT which is coming is a birthday on the MARC 1, which as you said, is nearly 10 years old. There’s new technology, there’s new ideas about crash structures, front clips, more reliable parts, it’s an evolution on the MARC 1.”
Can you walk me through the driver development?
“A lot of young drivers that are moving into Super 2, or Supercars, need laps. So the Bathurst 12 hour is a big race for us, we’ve had Will Brown, Bryce Fullwood, Nick Percat, Garry Jacobsen – all those guys that need seat time, and our cars are as close to a Supercar as they can get outside the Supercars calendar.”
“At one stage we were running the same trans-axle, engine and running gear that’s in a Supercar so it gave them a very close feel between the two. And they get a heap of track time, in some of those overseas races they would get a season’s worth of track time in 24 hours.”
“We’ve had GT drivers like Bayley Hall who’s now moved into Porsche. He spent a year in a MARC car, just because our cars has all of the gadgets that a GT car has, like paddle-shift. So it allows them to go into the GT direction if they want to. Ben Gersekowski raced with us for a year and a half, then went on to race with Leipert Motorsport in Europe as part of the Lamborghini squad for two years before COVID.”
“There has been lots of success stories of drivers coming through the program and going onto whatever they want to do.”
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to walk this path?
“You’ve got to have a thick skin, it doesn’t always go to plan. It’s not easy, it’s not an easy industry to work in. You have to be committed to it, because it does take over your life a little bit. I am lucky enough that my husband is very understanding. He doesn’t mind if my phone rings at six in the morning or ten at night. He understands that I am probably going to miss a lot of family events, this weekend I am missing his brother’s wedding because I’m in Adelaide.”
“You do have to live and breathe it, probably even more than the guys, just to prove that you are a thousand and fifty percent committed.”
“So my advice is, get in and give it a go and just keep showing up. Everyday. If something knocks you off your horse, you’ve just got to get back on and keep going.”
“Some days, you just have to say ‘Right, this happened, you’re gonna have to put it in a boat and sail it out to sea’ and turn up tomorrow, hoping it’s a better day.”
What’s next for Alyson?
“It has been a big 9 years at MARC Cars and it’s time to explore life outside of MARC and take on some new challenges.”