It would not be a stretch to say Jennifer LaFever is power hungry.
But that’s a good thing.
As quality manager for Roush Yates Racing Engines, it’s LaFever’s job to make sure every high-horsepower engine the company manufactures is as powerful as it can be when it’s placed under the hood of a NASCAR Sprint Cup or Xfinity race car or a Camping World Truck Series truck.
“We’re manufacturing a product and sending it out to be tested in real life, in real time,” LaFever told NASCAR Talk. “It’s being used by the end user and it better perform the way they want or else they’re going to be on our doorstep, asking why it didn’t.”
The 32-year-old California native worked in semiconductor tooling as an engineer after she graduated from the University of California-Davis. But the longtime race fan just didn’t feel her life was complete.
She moved to North Carolina to train at the NASCAR Technical Institute, landed an internship in the quality department at Roush Yates Engines, graduated and was promoted to her current role – all within about a year’s time.
“I quickly became a key player in the department,” LaFever said. “When I graduated from NTI, they said, ‘Hey, can you run the department?’ So I took on that. It shocked me that they trusted me, it really escalated quickly and the rest is history.”
LaFever’s hands touch and her eyes inspect every engine that Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports and other Ford-associated teams purchase or lease from Roush Yates Engines.
In so doing, she was directly part of several high points this season including Joey Logano’s Daytona 500 win, Logano’s three consecutive wins in Round 2 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, all of Logano’s six wins, as well as teammate Brad Keselowski’s performance.
“Every person in this building essentially touches an engine before it leaves, so every individual in our company is vital to that engine winning on Sunday, to winning a race or championship or just performing well every week,” LaFever said. “It is personally gratifying to see that win, to see that checkered flag show up in our hallway.”
But LaFever also gets gratification – and takes great pride in doing so – by being an example for and mentor to other young females who hope to carve out their own careers in the technical side of NASCAR racing or other forms of motorsports.
“I was a young female once and even with the passion and confidence I do have, I’ve had my moments of doubt and struggle, where there was someone resisting me and it did seem like it was just because I was a girl,” LaFever said. “Because I had those struggles, I am compassionate towards females who are going through those sorts of things. It really reignites the passion I have when I’m able to share my story and to encourage a female who’s feeling like the world’s against them.”
LaFever remains an advisor to NTI and is heavily involved in other programs that support female diversity in the industry.
“While I was in school, I found myself mentoring other females,” LaFever said. “A lot of females come into this industry thinking they’re the minority, are going to hang their head low and just do their thing and stay under the radar, not draw attention to themself because they don’t want to stand out or don’t want to make a mistake because it gets blown up.
“You can’t live your life like that. You have to go into it saying I’m a human being, this is what I have a passion for and this is what I want to do.”
Roush Yates Racing Engines employs about 200 people, with half of those dedicated solely to NASCAR racing. Many of LaFever’s co-workers also graduated from NTI, extending a kinship that formed when they were taking classes and hoping to someday make it in motorsports.
That’s why LaFever is the encouraging type. When others in training say they can’t do something, LaFever proves to them they indeed can.
“Male or female, whatever race you are, it’s not going to stop me because this is where I want to be and I have the credentials and experience to be here, as well as the passion,” LaFever said. “Passion is the biggest thing. I actually became a tutor at the California campus (of NTI before moving to North Carolina) and even male students were having doubts or struggling in their classes.
“Because I was older and had already been to college and worked in the industry, I was able to pass that information along. If this is what you want to do and keep working hard, you are going to get there. And I feel my story proves that. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re male or female, if you have the right credentials and work hard, you just have to do the work and do the work right. If this is what you want to do and you keep working hard, you are going to get there. I really feel like my story proved that.
“When you have conversations like this and people ask you questions … it reminds me that this is kind of a big deal, it is pretty cool and I should tell more people about it because maybe more people would want to be part of what I’m doing.”