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Motorsports Education: On-The-Job Training

Universities and colleges with motorsports-focused programs, along with a number of companies in the motorsports industry, offer students and graduates on-the-job training to prepare them for full-time careers.

By Karen Zurvalec

While a number of colleges and universities across the country offer degrees that are specific to motorsports engineering or business, they’re also providing their students with plenty of hands-on opportunities to work directly in the high-performance industry, either through internships with motorsports companies, or by fielding a racing team, operated completely by students.

“The advancements in manufacturing technology that have occurred over the last 10 to 20 years make it imperative that students get as much hands-on experience as possible,” said Joseph Moch of Oliver Racing Parts, Grand Rapids, Michigan. “We’re fortunate to be able to provide opportunities to students. It’s a true investment in our future.”

Career Placement Services

Every university or technical school with a motorsports training program has a Career Placement office to help students find jobs after graduation.

“Our Employment Services department is available to all students,” said Keith Pittman of NASCAR Technical Institute, Mooresville, North Carolina. “Services include leads and guidance for both local jobs while students are in school, and career jobs upon graduation. Through our Career Development class, NASCAR Tech helps students strengthen career skills stressed in technical training. Our Employment Services staff also works with employers and students to develop on-campus interview opportunities. These interviews are great opportunities for students to get interview experience and potential job offers before graduation,” he said.

The School of Automotive Machinists in Houston, Texas, also has a number of resources for students seeking employment, said Kim Klevenhagen. “It starts from orientation,” she said. “I go in and discuss how important it is to come to class, and to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, because their professors are going to be giving recommendations to potential employers. I also tell students to keep a file of places they’d be interested in working, so when they come to see me before graduation, they have an idea of where they want to go, and then we can work on their resume.

“Students here are also allowed to take a leave of absence for interviews,” she continued. “In the past five to eight years, I’ve seen more working interviews, where students will go to a particular company for a day or two, and work. We also have a big NASCAR engine shop that does Skype interviews with our students, and they’ve hired six students in the last year.”

“Clemson University operates a career center that helps place students in internships and full-time positions,” said Robert Prucka of Clemson University, Greenville, South Carolina. “The majority of motorsports positions are filled when teams contact us directly. We try to help teams identify people with the correct skill sets for the positions they seek. The student must be strong hands-on, in the classroom, and be able to perform under pressure and tight deadlines. This is a rare combination.”

“The department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences has a very successful program of industrial placements where students are assisted to find paid work experience with a wide range of motorsport, automotive and mechanical engineering companies,” said Douglas Higgison of Oxford Brookes University, Wheatley, United Kingdom. “A separate series of placement tutorials, training and presentations by companies of the nature of employment in their establishments complements the Industrial Lecture series, and the opportunity for a placement year to develop into a graduate employment opportunity is common.”

“We have an excellent Career Services department that works extensively with students to find them employment, both during their time as a student and after graduation,” said Michael Roylance of WyoTech, Laramie, Wyoming. “Use of the WyoTech Career Services department is a lifetime benefit to the student, so past students can contact them for assistance even years after graduation if their employment situation changes.”

“We have a very active Student Services office that helps students find internships, develop resumes, arrange interviews and seek jobs after graduation,” said Peter Hylton of Indiana-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), Indianapolis, Indiana. “At this time, all our graduates have found jobs.”

“We use our website and constant communication with the industry and our advisory board to keep students updated with the latest opportunities,” said Luke Woroniecki of University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina. “Racing is a unique field which demands intelligent, dedicated and good people. This is a rare commodity. On a regular basis, the industry is looking for part-time students they can groom over a few years to hire full time when they graduate. The system has been very successful.”

University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH), Lima, Ohio, also helps students find internships and jobs through its Career Services department, said Stephen Farmer. “Close contact is maintained between our Career Services department and many of our local businesses for this reason,” he said. “We also maintain corporate contacts on the regional and national level to provide lifetime job assistance for our graduates. This includes effective resume writing classes and interviews set up by our Career Services department.”

“Thanks to a well-rounded education, internship opportunities and participation in industry events, our students are ready to roll upon graduation,” said Randy Peters of Indiana State University (ISU), Terre Haute, Indiana. “Many ISU professors maintain active relationships within the motorsports industry, further facilitating internships and placement opportunities for both current students and graduates who exhibit the passion for motorsports.”

Internships

Internships provide students with on-the-job training for motorsports careers. Performance manufacturers are recognizing that this training allows students to hit the ground running, and transition smoothly from college to career, and are offering more opportunities for students to receive this training.

Advanced Clean Air Technologies Global (ACAT Global), Charlevoix, Michigan, a manufacturer of lightweight and efficient catalytic converter substrates, is actively involved with three collegiate programs engaging students in real-life projects that have a positive impact on the business. ACAT works with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, providing real-world experience for students in engineering and metallurgy. ACAT’s sister company, Oliver Racing Parts, also works with the engineering program at U of M. ACAT also works with students at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and the University of California at Davis, in developing and defining surface structure and metallurgical properties of ACAT’s products.

Motorsports management programs are ideal for internships, according to program directors.

“In their final semester, our students have a full-time, 12-week internship, where they’re working 40 hours a week with a motorsports-related business,” said Clay Harshaw of Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “What really helps our students is field experience, and we require field experiences for all our students. This helps them to network with the professionals in the industry. So when NHRA comes to town at zMAX Dragway, we work with the NHRA to give the students the opportunity to see what the operations are during the event. Last season, we worked in the media center at Phoenix, at the fall NASCAR race. We had some students that worked as pit reporters for Pit Notes, an organization there. Another highlight was at the Rolex 24, where we did fan surveys for the speedway. We also went to the IndyCar race and Grand-Am races at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, where we worked with media and hospitality.”

“Our students are required to complete a significant internship, so that they might have the opportunity to have hands-on experience in the industry,” said Travis Feezell of Belmont Abbey College, Charlotte, North Carolina. “We assist our students in finding those internships. Organizations in the industry want talented and creative students, and they know we have a deep pool of students with those very qualities. It’s not that the students are just fans of the sport, but more that they understand the industry in a deeper way and have some knowledge of trends and management in this industry. After graduation, many of the internships—or often the networks derived from the internships and program relationships—will turn into a job.”

Team Spirit

Some of the best hands-on experience for students comes through school-sponsored race teams. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) sanctions student teams in both Formula and Baja divisions, and currently has over 30 colleges and universities fielding teams. But a number of schools field teams in other sanctioning organizations as well.

“We have a pathway system through our program that is based around designing and building SAE cars,” said Woroniecki, of UNC Charlotte. “We train our students through introduction motorsports courses, then through SAE mini Baja, and lastly FSAE. The SAE cars are an excellent precursor into the industry. It forces them to learn, work and function as a team, it promotes simulation-driven design, FEA qualified design, and designing to material limits. For our students to get to this point, we hand-select them. We reserve the opportunity to hand-pick the seniors doing senior design on SAE cars to get both the best product we can, and a last bit of training for them before they graduate.”

“The primary way that undergraduate students participate in motorsports is through our Formula and Baja SAE student teams,” said Prucka, of Clemson University. “We have the Brooks Institute for Motorsports, founded in 1994 by Robert H. Brooks, in memory of Mark Brooks, Alan Kulwicki, Dan Duncan and Charlie Campbell. The mission of the institute is to provide student experiences in motorsports at Clemson University. The Brooks Institute is currently funding projects related to R&D for both our Baja and Formula SAE student teams, PhD research on racing engine design using advanced simulation, pit crew performance, as well as STEM outreach with Driving SCIENCE.”

“We own our own race track, Limaland Speedway, which provides the students an opportunity to practice what they learn in the classroom in a real-life scenario,” said Farmer, of UNOH. “We are the only university to have a motorsports athletic team for circle track and drag racing that are treated just like our regular athletes, with students qualifying for scholarships. We also have internships available with SEMA (internally), ARCA, and Grand-Am, as well as many clubs that offer the students opportunities to enjoy their individual passions.”

“At Oxford Brookes University, students have access to leading experts in an appropriate field with significant past achievements and current industry involvement,” said Higgison. “This is enhanced with practical skills and real-life experience in the Formula Student Competition and Oxford Brookes Racing. All students are able to participate in both of these endeavors.”

“There’s a lot of hands-on at our school,” said Klevenhagen. “We have four race cars right now that are actually out running, and those are field trips for our students. The students and instructors work on the cars, and if something goes wrong, it’s only the students and instructors there to fix it. Sometimes things go wrong, and the students don’t do things right, but they learn that way, and they don’t do it again.”

“Our facility is located in the main paddock of Virginia International Raceway (VIR), and supplemented by more traditional labs at Old Dominion University (ODU),” said Victor Seaber of Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. “Our facility functions day to day as a full service prep shop for all levels of motorsports, including the professional level. Our partner institution at Patrick Henry Community College has a facility of over 100,000 square feet, with lots of tools and equipment, and actively races as well.”

“Besides the classroom, students may be involved with motorsports through a variety of opportunities, such as Team Sycamore Racing, Indiana State University’s student-powered drag team, engaged in every aspect regarding the business of drag racing,” said Peters. “Students, regardless of their major, are active in all areas of the team, from working with engineering components to acquiring sponsorships, and from marketing and graphic design to event planning and driving,” he said. “It’s hands-on, experiential learning at its best.”

 

 




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