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NASA Great Lakes member Della Clos enjoys her time at the track with a large group of friends she and her family met through racing at NASA events throughout the region. Lots of NASA racers can tell a similar tale, but there’s a bit more to Clos’ story than that.
You see, Clos was part of an all-female pit crew for ARCA racer Bill Venturini from 1985 to 1988. It was something that had never been done before or since, and it was an experience she recalls fondly.
“At first, I did not like it. Packing and leaving every weekend was not fun,” Clos said. “I was in high school. I was gone the whole summer. But over time, I realized it was kind of cool. I realized, ‘Wow, people think this is neat, so I guess this is pretty neat.’ It was kind of unusual, and we did do a good job. After I got it all figured out, it was very cool.”
Clos’ father James Bielarz, a lifelong racing enthusiast, befriended Venturini a few years before with a strange request. Bielarz knew Venturini was headed from Chicago to Daytona for a race. Bielarz asked Venturini if he’d mind taking a case of tomato sauce to his wife, who was in Daytona. Being Italian, Venturini understood the importance of sauce, even if it was a bit of an odd a request.
Bielarz owned Nortown Automotive, and he ended up sponsoring Venturini’s car for a year. About that time, Venturini was forming an all-female pit crew as a promotional effort for his team, and he secured a contract with Permatex to sponsor and promote the “Ultra Blue Crew.” Part of the contract stipulated that there had to be a certain number of women at every race, so Clos ended up going to the tracks as part of the crew. At first it was just to ensure they fulfilled the contract terms, but eventually Clos was going over the wall during the races.
“At that time it was a big deal that it was an all-female pit crew, and we actually did the pit stops,” Clos said. “We jacked up the car, changed the tires, put in the gas, cleaned the windshield. We were very competitive, mostly because we actually did practice and practice for speed, whereas the other teams, whoever was available would do it, so they didn’t have a lot of practice.”
Initially, the team had trouble finding any women who wanted to take part, but eventually the Ultra Blue Crew was formed with women from the Chicago area. Venturini and the Ultra Blue Crew went on to win the ARCA Championship in 1987, the last year of the contract with Permatex. After that, the crew disbanded and went back to their lives.
“We actually had fans. We’d go to the tracks and we had people who would cheer us on,” Clos said. “When we would push the car down pit row to get ready for the race, we had a lot of people cheering. When the stands were filled with people cheering for you, that was pretty cool. So, it became fun, and then I met my husband, which made it all worthwhile.
“Probably the ultimate experience was when I was in high school and we had a race at Daytona, I was in the newspaper,” she said. “So it was like one minute I was a nobody, and the next minute everybody knew who I was. We were in Sports Illustrated, too, so I knew at that point that it was something big.”
Clos and her husband George had three boys, all of whom have grown up racing. As this story goes to press, George Jr. was getting ready for the Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta. George Jr. started karting at age 11 as did his youngest brother Jamie. It seems like all three brothers including middle son Andrew were either in karts or Legends cars.
“We did that for a few years,” Clos said. “It was kind of crazy because it seemed like every time we’d go to a race, we’d come home with a broken car or a smashed car, and it was exhausting.”
It was then they looked into road racing a Spec Miata with NASA, and the Clos family eventually had all three sons participating in the class. Along the way, Clos and her family became close with a group of people who race at the track. Their cars range from Spec Miata to a 350Z to a Scion FRS to a Thunder Roadster. They pit together, cook together and turn wrenches together if needed.
“We just became friends and it’s really been like a family,” Clos said. “I think what’s been the nicest thing of all is that we go and have a nice time being with each other and supporting each other and helping each other when we can. I think that helps. It makes it more enjoyable.”
And to think it all started when her father encouraged her to be part of the Ultra Blue Crew, the first and only all-female ARCA pit crew. The crew just celebrated a 25 year reunion at which Venturini and his wife Cathy were able to get many of the original members of the Ultra Blue Crew together at Chicagoland Speedway.
“Back then, girls were not allowed in the NASCAR garage area, or in the pit area,” Clos said. “They are now, but that was kind of a funny thing back then. When we had to get gas for the cars, we couldn’t push the car past the fence because the gas was in the NASCAR area.
“Not all the girls traveled (with the team) full time,” she added. “I was able to because I worked for my dad and of course he was going to let me off to go do that. And he liked it because he got to get into areas ne normally could not get into. He got to be in the pits all the time. That was a dream come true for him, whereas before he didn’t have that access. So it was a big thing for him, too.”