The '08-'09 off-season was one of the worst ever for NASCAR teams-cost cutting, massive employee layoffs and team mergers were the rule. The job loss rates were rising faster than a qualifying lap at Bristol. As the economy continues to battle through one of the worst times since the great depression, displaced employees are left to fend for themselves, the final result of sponsor dollars drying up.

In Iredell county, North Carolina-where most of the upper-tier NASCAR teams are located-the unemployment rate went from 6.9 percent in October 2008 to an astounding 12.9 percent by the time the Daytona 500 rolled around in February 2009. When a job did open up with any team, you had literally thousands of people competing for that one position.

I say all of this not to do a story on how bad the economy is (trust me there are plenty of people smarter about economics than myself). No, rather I say it to enforce the importance of your credentials. Experience is no longer just the only requirement to getting a racing job. Teams are looking for qualified employees that not only have the experience at the track but also ones who are bringing a college degree.

I experienced this first hand before I was hired by Circle Track; I was applying for a position with Evernham Motorsports (Now RPM). During my interview, the interviewer saw that I had went to college and asked, "Did you get a degree in engineering?" Unfortunately, I had to answer no, as I had gone toward another concentration. He proceeded to tell me that he would have hired me on the spot if I had a mechanical engineering degree. I had the experience but, obviously, didn't get the job because I didn't have the specific degree they were seeking.

Having the right degree is critical in helping you grab that elusive job in the motorsports industry. But where do you attend college? The answer to that question really depends upon what you want to do as a career. There are a lot of great programs across the country, but one in the heart of NASCAR country is the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, or UNCC.

UNCC is located in Charlotte, about 5 miles from Lowe's Motor Speedway, and within 30 minutes of 90 percent of most NASCAR teams and a whole slew of other motorsports-related companies. "We do consider ourselves the best-kept secret in the motorsports industry," says UNCC Motorsports Program Director, James Cuttino. "One of our best bragging points is that we have engineering student graduates working for almost every Sprint Cup team."

UNCC's mechanical engineering program is compromised of a four-year program that includes classes in physics, thermodynamics, dynamic systems, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and more. These classes form the foundation of the mechanical engineering programs found at most universities in this country. What separates UNCC from other programs is its Bachelors of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science with a Concentration in Motorsports Engineering. That's a mouthful of a degree, but if you're interested in a racing career it is definitely worth a look.

The program might also be the best-kept secret on campus. Behind Duke Centennial Hall (the engineering department building) is another building, which is almost overlooked when compared to the 100,000 square foot Duke Hall. But students going for the Motorsports Engineering concentration spend the majority of their time in this building.

This building is designed like a typical NASCAR race shop. With 6,800 square feet, the building is filled with all the necessary tools to run a team including welders, cutting torches, engine dynos, shock dynos, flow bench . . . the list goes on. It's designed like a race shop because it is a race shop. Student-run race-teams compete in a variety of motorsports disciplines, a critical part of the school's philosophy of getting the students hands-on experience.