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American Society for Engineering EducationSEPTEMBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 1 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
Woman of the World - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS
Getting in Gear -     BY JEFFREY SELINGO

REFRACTIONS: Engineering and the City - By Henry Petroski
ASEE TODAY: President's Letter - Conference Highlights - 2006 Awards - Calls for Papers
LAST WORD: Closing the Gender Gap - BY RAYMOND SIMON

YEAR OF DIALOGUE: A Focus on Scholarship - BY RONALD E. BARR
BOOK REVIEW: Leonardo's Lost Robots - BY ROBIN TATU
ON CAMPUS: Ready, Get Set, Go!

COVER STORY: Booting Up - In Texas, top levels of government, industry and academia work together to attract more engineers. - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

Engineering schools race to start new motorsports programs in response to NASCAR’s popularity.

Michael Sheridan has been hearing, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” over the loudspeakers at the Indy 500 since he started going to the races with his dad at the age of 9. Little did he know 18 years later he’d be hearing the same phrase again—this time as a technical support engineer for Panther Racing.

Standing in the pit with cars flying by at 200 mph, Sheridan, a 27-year-old junior in mechanical engineering technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), races against the clock to collect beacons of fuel data from each 40-second lap his driver takes around the track. In a sport where seconds make or break a win, Sheridan’s job is to ensure the driver doesn’t refuel too early.

As an intern, Sheridan puts in 50 hours a week, collecting and organizing reams of data on everything from airbag balance to tire temperatures and weight distribution. He loves every minute of it and credits the new motorsports engineering technology certificate program at IUPUI with giving him the qualifications for the internship. “I’ve used just about everything I’ve learned in class so far,” he says.

Sheridan is hoping the specialized nature of the motorsports program will put him on the inside track when he graduates. But he might not have that advantage for long if programs like the one at IUPUI continue to grow in number. Motorsports programs aimed at giving students a base in engineering, mechanics and business began gaining popularity in the mid-1990s as NASCAR garnered national attention.

Pete Hylton, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology and head of IUPUI’s one-year-old motorsports program, says these programs are past due. “In the university environment, we have not traditionally provided specific courses that helped students go into racing,” he says, adding that in the United Kingdom, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in motorsports engineering. “Motorsports is a multibillion dollar industry across the country, and it uses a lot of engineering skills and technologies. So why wouldn’t we want to train our students better to go out into that marketplace, like we do for aerospace or manufacturing?”

When the dean approached him about starting the program almost two years ago, Hylton, who’s had a national competition racing license for more than 20 years, jumped on the opportunity. The 26-hour certificate program at IUPUI offers courses on topics such as vehicle dynamics and data acquisition, providing students with a specialty to go along with their engineering technology degree.
The strongest aspect of the program may be its hands-on training. In a large lab in the engineering technology building, budding engineers hammer away at building a racecar out of a stripped-down stock vehicle. From tearing down and rebuilding the engine to designing and installing the roll cage safety system, students are involved in every aspect of creating a set of wheels that will fly.

The students also get a sneak peek at what working in the motorsports industry would be like. Hylton’s list of field trip destinations includes a plant where fiber composite racing components are manufactured and the Indianapolis Raceway Park. Hylton emphasizes the many careers in the motorsports industry beyond driving the car. “The whole picture is a lot bigger than just those guys who run at the top.”
Rather than sitting in the driver’s seat, Sheridan’s sights are set firmly on becoming a race engineer. “I want the buck to stop here.”

Lynne Shallcross is associate editor of Prism.



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American Society for Engineering Education