In the Purdue School of Engineering & Technology at IUPUI, the race is on to make IUPUI as synonymous to racing and the motorsports industry as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500.
And in the words of race car driver and Professor Peter Hylton, director of the IUPUI motorsports program, "We are looking good right now and surprising a lot of people."
This fall, IUPUI became the first university in the state of Indiana to offer a certificate program in motorsports. The Motorsports Engineering Technology Certificate curriculum offers a solid basis in mechanical engineering technology with special motorsports-related courses.
The 26-credit-hour certificate can be earned as part of a mechanical engineering technology bachelorís or associateís degree or earned separately. Lab projects are geared toward motorsports competition.
An early success in the young motorsports program is "Cat," a race car built entirely by Hyltonís students. Bearing the Jaguars spirit mark, the car is expected to hit the tracks this year for Sports Car Club of America competitions next year.
Hylton represented IUPUI in Kansas when Panther Racing announced an IUPUI/Panther Racing agreement, which will result in a second race car bearing the IUPUI marks.
While the motorsports program is housed in engineering and technology, the vision calls for a broad, interdisciplinary approach that will involve students in business and liberal arts, and perhaps others if connections to racing are discovered.
A key component of the program is the placement of students in significant internships in the motorsports industry. In an inaugural year marked by success, five students had such positions.
As his first assignment, intern Rodger Johnson, a communication studies major in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, put together a media book for Panther Racing. "Iím learning a lot about PR. I am learning a lot about communications. And a whole lot about motorsports," Johnson said during an interview at the second annual Motorsports Day held in October at IUPUI.
Located in "the motorsports capital of the world," IUPUI is strategically situated for taking the inside position in the world of racing-related education, particularly in securing real-world internships for its students.
The campus is four miles east of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home site for the Indianapolis 500 and NASCARís Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and the U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race. The Indianapolis area also hosts National Hot Rod Association and United States Auto Club events, and is home to numerous racing industry vendors and support operations.
Besides Johnson, other interns who spent the summer of 2006 in the high-speed world of racing included Mike Armbrester, a mechanical engineering student, and Joshua Cullins, Griffin Randall and Mike Sheridan, all mechanical engineering technology students. Armbrester, Cullins and Randall worked as track technicians for Champ Car World Series.
Sheridanís work with Panther included helping professional racing engineers collect data and develop the calibrations on the car driven by Vitor Meira.
"Itís been a good opportunity," says Sheridan, who worked at races in several cities.
Their internships have given them an invaluable "foot in the door," the engineering students says. "(Racing) is a hard sport to get into," Armbrester says. "You canít just knock on the door and hand them a resume. You have to have previous racing experience." Armbresterís work with Champ Car included a weekís stay in Australia.
"Motorsports is a sophisticated industry, generating billions of dollars in revenue," says IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz. "It needs highly skilled and talented people from accountants to mechanics to marketing professionals. Internships provide students the opportunity to experience the industry and to apply their studies everyday."
In partnership with IUPUI, Panther Racing — which placed eighth in the 2006 Indy 500 — will return to the Indy Pro Series with a single-car, student-run team for the 2007 racing season. Indy Pro is the developmental league used to prepare drivers and race teams for competition in the Indy Racing League, home of the Indy 500.
The partnership will involve students from engineering, as well as liberal arts, business and other academic areas. According to Hylton, it could easily make future connections to schools like law, medicine, public and environmental affairs and informatics — schools whose professional careers could easily intersect with the world of racing.
"These students arenít going to be standing around watching; theyíre going to be the ones building the race cars," said Panther coowner John Barnes in announcing the partnership signing this summer.
"We feel like this is going to be unlike any other internship a college or university can offer. These students are going to be qualified to work in our profession the minute they graduate from IUPUI."
These working-world connections, coupled with the strong academic program, are drawing students such as Lynsey Tilton, a 19-year-old racer from California, who competes in the world of midget cars. Tilton, a second-year engineering student, began racing motorcycles at age 4. She chose IUPUI over universities like Purdue-West Lafayette, Rose-Hulman and Kettering because of the quality of its engineering program and the opportunity to continue racing while taking classes. When she isnít in class, you can find her racing one of her two midget vehicles.
"With the motorsports program that IUPUI is now offering, I will be able to relate the information I am learning to my own racing which will make me a better driver," Tilton says. "The more knowledge I have that relates to motorsports, (the more) it will help me when I go out into the engineering field in motorsports. I know a lot of teams look at that, and I believe that IUPUI will help me accomplish my goals for a career in motorsports."
Another E & T student, Joshua Clemons, 18, has been racing and working on cars since age 6. He chose IUPUI over a couple of other universities, including Purdueís West Lafayette campus.
"I wanted to continue racing while I was in college," Clemons says. "Being close to home was one thing, and I felt IUPUI had a lot of involvement with different kinds of racing organizations, with Champ Car and Indy car series. I thought it would be a better experience for me if I were to be at IUPUI."
Sheridan and three other "pioneers" in the internship program have high — and realistic — hopes that they will get professional motorsports jobs once they finish their education.
However, they have one regret: When IUPUI motorsports is really going full throttle, "we wonít be here. We will have graduated."