Melanie Snow, that's what. "It's all I listen to these days," says the mother of four and 2009 IMSA GT3 Challenge by Yokohama winner. With four children ranging in age from 6 to 16 years, it's easy to see why Snow is as well-versed in the setup of a Porsche as she is in the music of Hannah Montana, carpools, team sports and -- of course -- racing.
Carpools, testing and coaching: It's all in a day's work for Melanie Snow
After taking a break in the 2010 season, 2009 champion Melanie Snow returned to the IMSA GT3 Challenge by Yokohama in 2011 along with her son, Madison. They participate in the Platinum and Gold Cup divisions, fielding the two Snow Racing Porsches.
Pink Porsche Not the Wisest Choice?
For this season, as has been the case since 2007, Melanie’s Porsche sports the pink livery that has become her signature. How did she come to drive a pink Porsche?
"Pink has been my favorite color since I was a little girl. It stands out on the track so it works for me,” explains Melanie. She requested pink livery in 2007, while running with Aasco. The crew chief thought the color wasn’t the wisest choice, as it could make the car a target on track. “I made him a deal,” says Melanie: “I said, wait and see how I come up to speed and then we can decide on the color.” When the car arrived, Melanie was “quite slow the first couple sessions,” but by the afternoon she had become the fastest of the testing group. "I didn't know my times but when I pulled into the pits, my crew chief came up to me and said, ‘alright you earned it, pink it is.’" And pink it has been, ever since.
For the Snows, motorsport is a family activity.
While Mom and big brother race, the rest of the Snows will focus on school and karting. "My eldest, [Madison], is very talented – I figured he would go into racing," says Melanie. "My 8-yr-old daughter probably won't, but the little one has been asking us for quite a while if she, too, can kart with her siblings."
Putting family first is what caused Melanie to take a break from racing in 2010. It’s not the first time she has taken time off to be a mom. “I took a break after our third child was born. [Husband] Martin was still racing and his last race was in 2002. And then we had one more [child] that was born in ’05.” By 2007, “[the kids] were kind of older and I thought, well let’s try it. I got back into it in 2007 and Martin just came and supported me. But then in 2008 he knew he couldn’t be at the track and not race again so he jumped in.”
For the Snows, family and racing have always been deeply intertwined. Melanie grew up in California, under the wing of her grandfather, an active Porsche lover and PCA member. "My Dad died when I was very young," Melanie tells us, "so I went everywhere with my Grandpa." Cars and driving were a big part of her family, with uncles and cousins involved in various aspects of all things automotive. Her first track event was at age 18, and she shared a car with her grandfather. The car–a 1970s Porsche 911—was a very pure way for Melanie to learn performance driving.
It was at a PCA event that she met Martin Snow, who became her husband and introduced her to racing. "Martin bought me my first race car," says Melanie, adding, "racing has always been a family passion for us. It is something we enjoy doing together. When I did get my own car, I was always going up against [Martin] so he’d be first and I’d be second,” she laughs, “which was fine!”
The transition between PCA track weekends and racing came at Martin’s urging.
“It was obviously our passion together because we met at the race track,” says Melanie. However, Martin was “crazy,” she adds. “When he was club racing he traveled all over and did every single PCA race there was to do. It got to where it was insane because he was winning every time, which was nice and great. But [when that happens] you don’t push yourself and you don’t go faster, and he knew he needed to step it up and get into the pro circuit. When you go pro, you know you’re not going to win, but you’re going to improve your driving and you’re going to have a little more competition out there.” The idea to go pro came from Martin, and Melanie—who certainly comes across as easy-going—said, “sure, I’ll do it with you.”
The decision turned out to be a good one: the Snows soon started winning races. Does Melanie remember her first win?
"Hmm, I don’t think I remember my first win, but my first big win was Sebring (2009)—my first pro win,” she says. That is a pretty big win, we say. "Yeah, that was huge,” admits Melanie, adding humbly, “you know, it’s half luck and half skill and endurance and everything…that was definitely a good one.” (Melanie and Martin are the only husband-and-wife duo to have ever won the 12 Hours of Sebring twice, in 1999 and 2009). The more we talk to Melanie, the more we become aware there is no pretense there. Her love of driving is very pure, rather than driven by trophies. When we ask her to list her accomplishments behind the wheel she admits, “I don’t really keep a list…just kinda remember the wins.”
Much is made of how challenging it is to have spouses sharing a canoe or a tandem bike -- but a race car?
Sharing the spotlight in racing has to be difficult. "There are times when one of us is frustrated over an issue with the car, and we know to let the other cool off,” admits Melanie, but adds, “otherwise, we really enjoy our time on track.”
Has there ever been contact between the two?
“No, no,” laughs Melanie. But the Snows on-track antics are “a big joke around the house,” she says. “We were at Mosport [and Martin] made a mistake and I passed him going onto the back straight. I was ahead of him for a lap then and we had pressure in front of us. There was a guy we were trying to get past and it was really hard to get by him, so Martin tried for awhile and then made a mistake. We could talk to each other on the radio. My competitor was catching up behind me so we were kind of stuck…those cars are so equal, it’s really hard to pass. So I was behind Martin and he tried to pass and made the mistake. I came out of the turn faster, so I passed him and he was behind me for a lap and then the next lap he comes on the radio and says, “I’m going down deep inside of you” and I said, “well then you better be there at the apex or it’s mine!” Melanie has us laughing again. She continues: “I see white smoke flying everywhere and he’s locking it up and I get on the radio saying, just kidding! I wasn’t really cutting you off!”
For the Snows, racing is a way of life, but family always comes first.
“We kind of have fun with each other, you know I mean? Sometimes it’s a challenge. This year I bought two separate computers. We’ll fight over the computers to go over data because you get out of your car and you want to look over data and [Martin] always hogged it. So I went down and bought myself a new one and he said, why do we need a new computer? And I said, ‘cause you’re always hogging it! Stuff like that. We just bond when we’re there, but you know there’s times where you get out of the car and you’re not happy and I know to stay away from him and he knows not to come and talk to me. We just kind of cool down for a minute because you didn’t drive the best you could. But for the most part we just love doing it and having each other by our side while we’re doing it.”
Melanie Talks Racing
To date, the races, adventures (and wins) behind the wheel have been many for the Snows. Melanie and Martin have participated in World Challenge racing, although (true to character) Melanie isn’t sure of the dates.
“Yeah, my husband won the championship and I was third; we were competing against each other and that was my big step into the pro stuff single driving. That was that was a fun series and very competitive.”
We ask Melanie to compare the IMSA Challenge to the World Challenge in terms the competition and driving level.
“The competition is pretty much the same,” she says. “I actually think it’s harder driving in the IMSA series and Patron Challenge because the cars are so equal and to make a pass, it’s just not like you’re going to draft and pull out and go by. You really have to get that run on the corner [or] you really have to out-brake them.”
Equal cars mean Melanie has to sharpen her skills to win, and she is not shy about doing her homework.
“I did a bunch of testing in 2009 with Patrick Long out at Miller. [We] put an old set of tires on and we just worked on going in deep and blocking the tires up and flat spotting them, but knowing where you could go in.”
We ask her to tell us more about her 2009 Sebring win, specifically about partnering with Patrick Huisman, winner of 4 Porsche SuperCup Championships.
“Porsche Motorsports hooked us up with [Patrick],” says Melanie. “They knew we had been doing the pro stuff for awhile, and they knew we were dedicated, so they asked if we wanted to work with a driver that would get us a better chance at winning.”
Patrick, says Melanie,
“was an amazing guy—so much fun, great in the pits. But on the track it was really funny. The first couple of sessions he’d go out and he’d turn a lap and then the next lap would be like 3 seconds slower and the next lap would be 4 seconds faster and me and my husband we’re just kind of looking at each other and thinking, gee he’s like kind of inconsistent, you know.”
We all laugh, knowing what’s coming.
“We’re all saying, that’s kind of weird … but he was just getting used to the track and trying different things here and there. Then when it came to race time, Patrick was within a couple of tenths of every single lap, I mean he was amazing!”
In 2009, Melanie won the 2009 IMSA GT3 Gold Cup Challenge.
Within a memorable race season, was there a particular race that sticks out in her mind? “I think my biggest race this past year was at Chicago. Brian Wong [and I] had a battle! I was on the inside of him in one turn and he was on the inside of me in another and we battled and battled. We came to lap traffic, there was a Platinum car in front of us that was slower, and I was trying to get by [Brian]. I was able to make the move and get by and [our battle] went on lap after lap. I finally had him, coming to the last turn before the start/finish. This was it—he was going to do anything, so he tried to go around the outside of me and ended up driving off and I ended up taking the win. It was just one of the funnest races because we went back and forth, side by side and never once touched, we didn’t block each other, it was just true driving and it was so much fun to drive like that and enjoy it.”
Her recounting of the story engages the entire PorschePurist team (we watched and enjoyed the duel between Snow and Wong). We tell her it was great to see and we could definitely see why that would be her favorite. We tell her we remember watching Brian trying to make that move and saying, no way—to which Melanie replies, “yeah, I concur: no way!”
So who is more competitive: Melanie or Martin?
“Umm, I would have to say Martin” Melanie says. “I mean, I’m very competitive, but Martin gets on the track and he just has blinders on and he is going for one thing and one thing only, and that’s the win. That’s what makes him a great driver, especially in that IMSA series. He’s a little more aggressive, so he can go out there and make those risky low percentage moves. I’ll kind of wait and stick back, and in my mind I’m thinking wow, is it worth it to have first or to have second or to not finish at all? He is like, this is it and this is what I’m going for. But that’s how he does so well, you know!”
The Family that Races Together…
Leading by example, the Snows are passing along the passion and enjoyment of motorsport to their four children. Madison is now a mainstay at the track, but all the kids often accompany their parents to the track when Melanie and Martin race, and all four drive karts. Melanie lights up when she speaks of the kids. “My youngest just started this year, but she has been begging us [to drive] since she was two. Every birthday she’d have it would be, I had my birthday can I race now, I had my birthday, can I race?” Her sister, who is eight, is not as enthusiastic: “she watched her brother flip in the cart and ever since then she’s real cautious,” says Melanie, adding, “we’re not going to force her to drive, of course!
The two older boys both drive competitively.
“My [twelve]-year-old, he actually got great. He goes out after we make a change to his cart and he can tell you, oh, the cart doesn’t turn in—just one simple change and he can tell you in one lap like what the cart’s doing. However, he gets blinders on and he’s not quite aware of everything that goes around him on the track that’s why he’s flipped twice—the kid’s wild! Now he hasn’t flipped in about a year so that’s a good thing you know,” laughs Melanie.
Madison, the oldest Snow, is extremely fast.
"He is like his dad, it’s just natural. He doesn’t come in–if the car is bad and set up wrong, he’s going to drive it anyway and he’s going to make it do what it needs to do.” All parents enjoy seeing familiar traits in their children, and the Snows are no exception. Says Melanie, “While I get in the car and I need my rear sway bar adjusted and I can tell you about the feel of the car, [Madison] is just like Martin: he’ll just make the cart do whatever it needs to do and that’s it!” Madison had his first race car experience when Melanie escorted him around Miller two years ago, and this year joined Mom in the race circuit. Emphasizes Melanie, “we’ll just keep saying we’ll give them the opportunity and let them decide!”
Finding balance between work and family is a challenge many Moms face.
We ask Melanie to tell us how she balances her passion and her family. “It’s very challenging, a lot of weight on your shoulders and that’s probably one of the reasons we [did not] race in 2010,” she admits. The school year is in full swing and it is obvious she is very involved in her kids’ lives, on and off the race track. The four children participate in various activities, and she does not feel like it is fair to say no so she can go racing. “We chose to have the kids, so we need to raise them. With them being in karting and gymnastics and dance and soccer–I’m very scheduled. I have a calendar that is color-coded for each kid so we know when the activities are.” She also volunteers at the kids’ school, coaching soccer teams.
Although at first the time commitment to do the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge series may seem like “only 7 weekends,” the time commitment is much deeper. Melanie explains: “it’s just 7 weekends but if you want do well and you want to win you have to test, and so when Miller wasn’t open we’re traveling, and when Miller’s open then we’re out there a couple times a week. So it takes up more time than just your 7 weekends! That’s the hard part…”
In spite of a very full schedule, in 2011, the Snows have once again found a way for the family to race: Melanie and their eldest son, Madison, are taking part in the IMSA GT3 Challenge by Yokohama. What makes it all worth it? "We have fun out there," says Melanie. And, doubtlessly, race fans will continue to have fun watching generations of Snows compete – and win.
More About Melanie Snow
Favorite Track: “I think Miller is my favorite. Road America used to be my favorite because I love the elevation changes and the going through the trees and the big sweeper. But Miller is challenging to me because every time I go out I always pick a corner where I’m going to do better in. I just find it’s so challenging. They’re all fun tracks.”
Training Regimen: “I go to the gym every morning. It depends, I’ll lift weights, I do a lot of yoga and I started just recently doing cross fit, which I love. I do a bunch of classes.”
Music on her iPod: “I don’t listen to music before I race. I used to but I don’t anymore. I’m too busy talking to everyone, I’m always out chatting, you know! My kids have been playing with my iPod, so right now it’s all Hannah Montana and Chris Daughtry!”
Her daily driver: “I have a big SUV because I have to haul my kids and their friends around. I think it’s a Lexus 570 or 5 or LX 570…is that what they call it? I don’t know, my husband bought it for me!”
[Interview by Christian Maloof/Article by Valerie Roedenbeck | Melanie and Madison Snow Picture via Nicholas Draney]