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August 5, 2009

Danger Junkies

chrissy rodriguez

Christina Rodriguez

Photo Credit: Andrew Hetherington

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Christina Rodriguez, 36, Dearborn, MI; vehicle dynamics development engineer at Ford Motor Company

WHAT I DO: Test out prototype Ford cars called "mules," handmade models that haven't gone into mass production yet. To make sure the car holds up under any conditions, we have a test track with 15 tricky road surfaces that re-create potholes, cobblestones, icy situations — just like the crappy roads you drive on every day. On the track, I push the car to the limit, until it's ready to spin out of control; I tear up the tires, skid, slide, drive 130 miles an hour — anything to "excite" the vehicle, to make it lose its grip. Yes, it's a teenage boy's dream.

MY GREATEST ASSET: You have to have a good "assometer" in this job. In other words, you need to be able to feel it in your butt when you're sitting in the driver's seat and the car is about to do something you don't want it to do, like swerve or fishtail. You become like an instrument; your senses are very in tune. Once I determine what needs fixing — shocks, springs, steering, suspension — a technician makes adjustments, then I test the car again.

MAJOR MISHAP: Sometimes a wheel flies off. But our mechanics are always there for us; they're great — they know our lives depend on them. Our relationship is tight.

BOYS' CLUB: I'm the only woman out of about 40 men in this gig. At first, I felt like I needed to prove myself in a big way; there's a lot of competition, not to mention egos. But now everyone is super-accepting. Anyway, it's not the first time I've been outnumbered by guys. When my brother and I were growing up in Puerto Rico, he was too shy to join Little League, so Mom sent me with him — I was the only girl on the team.

WORST PART OF THE JOB: I've gotten sick in a car a few times. Once, I had to keep driving over "whoop-de-dos" — little hills that are like speed bumps — more than 250 times to make sure the car rode well.

BEST PART: I get to peel out in someone else's car. How cool is that?


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