So you want a job in the motorsports industry? UNCC might be a good place to look. Kathy B
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.
The Shop at UNCC where students work on the race cars.
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."
The new water tunnel, which was built by students and faculty, is the fifth largest in Ame
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.
Students spend time in the classroom and then take what they've learned and apply it on th
The school has an '83 Camaro drag racing car, a Formula SAE car, and a Legends team which has since been retired in favor of a Pro Challenge car. Each one of these cars spend time on the racetrack and is completely maintained and operated by the students and faculty of UNCC. The Camaro is a purpose-built drag car intended more for those students interested in making maximum horsepower in an engine while enhancing motor longevity.
The Formula SAE car competes against other schools across the nation at Michigan International Speedway in an annual contest sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), where students have to design, fabricate, and build, a car from the ground up. The concept behind Formula SAE is that a fictional manufacturing company has contracted a design team to develop a small Formula-style race car. The prototype race car is to be evaluated for its potential as a production item. The target-marketing group for the race car is the non-professional weekend autocross racer. Each student team designs, builds, and tests a prototype based on a series of rules whose purpose is to ensure onsite event operations and promote clever problem solving.
The school has three student run teams, one of which is the Formula SAE team. Shown here i
Formula SAE promotes careers and excellence in engineering as it encompasses all aspects of the automotive industry including research, design, manufacturing, testing, developing, marketing, management, and finances. Formula SAE takes students out of the classroom and allows them to apply textbook theories to real work experiences.
Today, the competition has expanded and includes a number of spin-off events. In the United States, there are three locations: California, Michigan, and Virginia; Michigan being the largest event and longest running.
Finally, the Pro Challenge team competes in a full-bodied Pro Challenge car at tracks like, Hickory Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Concord Motorsports Park, and Dillon Motor Speedway. The car, new for 2009, is in the early stages of being built. In fact, the day I was visiting the school the car and most of the students were actually at Brown and Miller Racing (one of the program's sponsors) getting wired and plumbed for an upcoming race.
"We couldn't do what we do without our sponsors," says Cuttino. Brown and Miller is just one of many sponsors who help by contributing parts and pieces to each of the teams. In many cases, the sponsors also work with students on their respective teams.
While students spend the majority of their time in the classroom or lab setting, the race teams allow the students to take what they have learned from the classroom and apply it to a real world situation. For instance, the school has several CNC machines and, as part of the program's class instruction, students learn not only how to work the machines but also how to design parts made in the machines using a computer program called SolidWorks. When the students need to fabricate a part, they can design and machine the part themselves without ever leaving campus.
This type of methodology is applied to most of the machinery in the motorsports program. Students spend time on the engine dyno, shock dyno, and flow bench, so that when it comes time to enter the job market they can hit the ground running with both a degree and hands on experience.
In this lab, students test different parts and materials to analyze strength.
The program's latest project is a brand-new water tunnel. Similar to a wind tunnel, the water tunnel is designed to analyze the aerodynamics of an object. The tunnel allows you to watch moving water go across an object and view where the "dirty air" is being created. UNCC's water tunnel was built entirely by students and faculty and is the fifth largest in the country. It's already drawing attention from some Cup teams.
College can be one of the best times of your life, but choosing the right one is important for setting you on the path for the future. If you have a desire to work in the motorsports industry and want that hands on experience coupled with a good, solid education, take a look at UNCC, the school has a lot going for it.
No top-level race team would be complete without an engine dyno.
A typical lab setting.
Students will spend time on the dyno to not only understand how it works but also to under
In the engine part of the program, students work with part suppliers and sponsors to achie
It's not uncommon to walk through the program's shop and find components like this transmi
Students have access to a variety of tools like this shock dyno, all designed on a philoso