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Racing Dreams - IUPUI Motorsports perfect fit for engineer

Stephanie Borchelt loves puzzles. Small wonder, given three of her four parents and step-parents are engineers and that Borchelt — in their words — showed “an early aptitude for engineering.”

But as her career at Indian Creek High School in southern Johnson County wound down, she faced the biggest puzzle of her young life: to find a college that offered her a path to her passion: auto racing.

Her academic performance made Borchelt attractive to engineering schools across the country. She learned quickly that motorsports and racing aren't common to most university campuses. She found a few — mostly in the south, in the heart of NASCAR country — but nothing felt right until she looked a little closer to home.

Stephanie Borchelt

IUPUI “wasn't really on my radar when I started looking, but after searching for a year for a college that had anything to do with motorsports, my high school counselor told me about the Motorsports program,” she says. “I couldn't believe they had exactly the program I wanted, and so close to my home.”

Best of all, her classroom work, volunteerism and heavy involvement in school life and activities qualified her to vie for a relatively new IU scholarship program, the Adam W. Herbert Presidential Scholars program. “To be able to follow my dream and get the kind of support as the Herbert Program offers is amazing,” says Borchelt, ready to start her sophomore year. “It's been perfect for me.”

Still, the deal wasn't sealed “until I met Pete (Hylton),” the director of the Motorsports program, based in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI. “I looked around his office and saw all his racing photos and souvenirs, and it was like I'd found home!” she laughs. “And he was excited about me coming to school here!”

Borchelt was a little surprised by Hylton's enthusiasm, since “I didn't really have any personal history in racing,” she says. “Then Pete started talking about what he wanted the program to become, and what we could do, and I was getting more excited the longer he talked. It was so much what I wanted for my life.”

Career plans

IUPUI Motorsports is a young program but growing rapidly, with students from across the U.S. and around the world. Some want to be drivers, others to work at racetracks, still others plan to be racing engineers.

Borchelt is among the latter: she loves the blend of mechanical and electrical engineering, and hopes to become a crew chief one day. “You don't have to be an engineer to work in racing,” she says. “Some people do it 'seat-of-their-pants' style. But a lot of what race teams deal with are engineering problems,” and that makes engineers more and more valuable to teams.

Borchelt knows that successful crew chiefs have to do more than make a car faster or more durable. It's vital to know more about race strategy, driver skills, managing a team of engineers and technicians, etc. As a non-driver, she wants to learn 'driverspeak.'“ You have to know and understand what drivers are saying, to get a feel for what the car is like for them on the track,” Borchelt says. “It's hard to make those tiny adjustments they need. You've got to be able to communicate.”

She didn't start out to be a racing fan. But one day, she and her stepfather, “looking for a way to bond,” watched a NASCAR race on TV. He encouraged her to pick one car and driver and watch them the entire race. Borchelt picked Hoosier native Jeff Gordon, and found herself intrigued by the race's ebb and flow. Like a budding engineer, she instinctively knew that “every little change — the temperature, the track, wear-and-tear on the tires or the car, driver fatigue — can make a huge difference in a race.”

Her stepfather didn't realize what he'd unleashed. “I don't think he expected me to fall in love with racing,” Borchelt laughs. “But I knew right off that being an engineer in the world of racing is what I wanted to do with my life.”

On the right track

She knew she was headed in the right direction when she attended her first in-person race, the 2007 Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and NASCAR remains her first racing love. But she's most involved now with IUPUI's Formula SAE team, directed by Andrew Borme, a former chief engineer in IndyCar and Formula One. “We get to build a car from scratch, which is really cool,” she says. SAE is a college student design competition, with wide latitude in rules on engines, chassis and other design aspects. “It lets us be creative to find ways to make our car faster,” Borchelt says with a grin.

The IUPUI Motorsports Program has a new machine to build its SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) racing program around. The car, launched this spring, was rebuilt by the IUPUI students and already has raced at tracks in Kentucky and Missouri. View larger photo

Central Indiana's well-entrenched motorsports industry offers students a wide range of internship and job opportunities. “Indy is the perfect place for a program like IUPUI Motorsports,” says Borchelt, who worked this past summer for the Brownsburg-based motorcycle racing Vance and Hines Motorsports operation, an internship that has been extended to her sophomore year at IUPUI. “With the Speedway and other tracks, plus so many teams around, we all have lots of opportunities.”

In the end, though, Borchelt credits the faculty for making IUPUI Motorsports the red-hot ticket it has become. “Pete and Andy have been in racing for years, and are fantastic professors. They love sharing their knowledge with students who share their passion.” Hylton has been both a sports car race driver and racing journalist, while Borme was the chief engineer for Helio Castroneves during his 2001 and 2002 Indy 500 wins.

Hylton suspected his Borchelt was going to be a good fit for the Motorsports program when she was one of six students he took to a race at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis. After a four-hour drive “crammed like sardines into a school truck,” the IUPUI group arrived to find freezing rain and cold meant their plans to camp out at the track had to be abandoned.

Instead, the group wound up sharing a two-room suite with sleeping bags on the floor. When Hylton asked Borchelt if she was OK with that, she told him “if I'm going to be in racing, I'm going to be surrounded by a team of guys. Guess I'd better get used to it,” Hylton recalls.

The best thing about IUPUI Motorsports, Borchelt says, is that it is “hands-on. It doesn't matter how much you know — you have so many ways to get involved and learn what's important to you,” she adds. “For us, motorsports and racing isn't what you do, it's what you are!”

Track Action

Several current and past members of the IUPUI Motorsports program spent this past summer living out a dream in the fast-paced world of auto racing. Browse Gallery