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College vs Experience

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Hi everyone,

I'm in the early stages (thinking) of changing careers, specifically going in motorsports, and I've been debating on returning back to college for my masters degree in motorsports or to take up a position at a engineering company that has a facility dedicated to race car development. I currently have a BS in Mechanical engineering and spent the last 5 years working at a naval repair facility (nowhere near cars), but I wanted to get some opinions on what you think would be a better route to pursue.

I want to get involved with the engineering side of motorsports, whether that be data analysis or the R&D work, and I've found the courses here at RaceCraft have been a tremendous help! I've had some motorsport experience in FSAE & a few autocross events, but nowhere near the professional level of racing. I have noticed however that race engineers have a good mix of higher education as well as experience working with teams and so I wanted to ask other race engineers & anyone else about their opinion on obtaining higher education vs experience with a race team or company.

Thanks,

Arvin

Hi Arvin, I'm happy to give my perspective on this. Glad you're enjoying the course material!

My background before working at RaceCraft is working in data/performance/race and strategy engineering. Originally I completed an apprenticeship as an automotive mechanic before going to university and getting my degree in Mechanical Engineering (equivalent to a BS is Mech Eng in US) followed by a Masters degree. None of my higher education was motorsports specific, all general Mech Eng.

My personal opinion on this is that building relationships within the motorsport industry and gaining practical experience within a race team should be the priority over motorsport specific masters degrees. If it is motorsport engineering (be it racing or R&D) you're interested in and if you have a quality grounding in general mechanical engineering, you already have the first principles type tools you need to learn on the job.

I don't want to discredit post-graduate motorsport specific training in general, but my personal experience with graduates from these programs is that the quality varies a lot across the different organisations that offer these programs.

If a young engineer comes to me to ask for a job, the first thing I want to know is what is their racing experience. FSAE can give you some great learning opportunities but most engineers working in racing have done FSAE so there is nothing differentiating about it anymore. It's closer to being a pre-requisite than something that makes you stand out.

Working in racing is quite an unconventional job in terms of its demands and time investment, so for it to be a good fit for you, you need to love it! I think the best way to find out if you love it (and to prove it) is to spend time working at the lower levels. Sometimes this means volunteering for free (at least to start with) other times you can get your expenses covered at least.

Don't think that you need to go in and start working on the engineering side either. I see immense value in a young engineer working within an amateur team as a mechanic or tyre guy or gopher. You learn a lot by working in these different roles that will serve you well later in your career. You'll also find you naturally get opportunities to move up just by being there and being "Jonny on the spot" when they need someone to do a different role at short notice. Even more importantly, you'll meet people and make contacts!

Every job I've ever had in racing, be it full-time or as a contractor has come through personal connections and recommendations. That's the way motorsport works, it's based on trust. My advice is to put a lot of emphasis on the personal side and building relationships.

Go to your local race events. Classes like Formula Ford, Formula 3/4, TCR, Porsche Cup cars are the level I would shoot for to start with. All these classes have well-constructed cars running in a well-defined category that are designed to train the next generation of drivers, mechanics and engineers.

Good luck!

Tim

Wow! Thanks for the reply Tim! That was some great advice! It's great to hear from other engineers about their thoughts/opinions. It gives me a better idea of what to expect going forward. If only we had a dedicated track here in Hawaii, I would already be at the track working. But i'll have to settle with autocross for the time being. Looking forward to the future courses!

Arvin

I will second what Tim said, he covered it very well and my own experience in motorsports was very similar. Nothing against having the degrees and knowledge, but if not for the people I knew, I would never have made a living from it.

Originally I started in aerospace engineering but ended up changing to a more general aviation degree with three additional minors in logistics, aviation maintenance, and business administration. I definitely have regrets for not finishing an engineering degree as I find myself often with tremendous hands on knowledge but having to work harder when it comes to the theoretical side. Not to say that I am unhappy with the opportunities I have had in motorsports, just that I wish I had put more initial effort on the engineering side. Your background should give you enough depth to not be lost while also having a good diversity of background to pull from as you build experience.

No doubt that your current location isn’t as conducive to gaining experience as others but it isn’t a deal breaker, I will fully admit there was a great deal of dumb luck in gaining experience with as many forms of motorsports as I was able to just because I lived in Daytona Beach. As Tim said, be as involved as you can, and be visible as someone who is always there and ready to take on what ever task is needed no matter how mundane. Definitely be known as someone who is competent but wants to learn, I’ve found that it opens more doors than about anything else will.

Good luck with it, and beyond the relationships, enjoy the friendships you make in it.

Jonathan

Well put Jonathan, thanks for adding that!

Arvin, if you don't have a dedicated race track, maybe there are still options for you. What about rally cars or karting? I've worked with a number of great engineers over the years that began their career in rallying. Still a lot of clever stuff happening in modern rally cars!

When it does come time to work in racing, having a US passport is such a big benefit so be thankful for that! Also, if you're interested in hearing about my path to racing you should check out the latest member's webinar that I did last week (number #003) if you haven't already.

Tim

Thanks Jonathan & Tim for the replies!

Unfortunately Oahu isn't know for its motorsports. While we've had some tracks in the past, they have all been shutdown due to various reasons. K1 Speed was the last karting place on the island till Covid forced them to shutdown so now the only place to go racing is Autocross and Rallycross through SCCA. Although I have done quite a bit of sim racing lately to kind of fill in the gap of not having a track. I've joined a few leagues competitions it's been great for the most part, but ultimately doesn't replace real racing.

I think I caught the last few minutes of the webinar when it was live but I'll go back and check it out again. Still making my way through the data analysis course which has great information so far! Thanks again!

Arvin

If I were you, I would definately take the offered job position - IMO, it's better to have the job and study part time (formally or informally) than have a qualification and have to find the job (with the world still in transition with COVID, this may be difficult). Both options would give you exposure to potential contacts, but the job will potentially give you a greater insight into the 'back room' engineering behind the product design and reasons for doing it - it will also provide an income, which may be important if you have a family.

Tim will be familiar with the expression "It's not what you know, it's who you know", and there's a lot of truth in it.

I figured I'd bump this thread instead of making my own as I can somewhat relate to this. I'm in a similar situation but instead I left university early and became a mechanic, learnt a lot though building street cars and then now work at a place that opened the doors to me to work with a couple of smaller endurance teams. Personally I would take the job and try and study on the side, as you never know who you're gonna rub shoulders with working in the industry. For example I currently service trucks and cars on a daily bases and this is the "bread and butter of the business" but we have a small racecar section at the back which we run a VZ V8 Supercar out of in our local Sports Sedan series, my boss was also the head mechanic for the workshops old owner who completed in Australian 2 Litre touring cars in the 90's (Winning his class at the Bathurst 1000 twice) and the V8 Supercars in the early 2000's. So the knowledge you can gain off other peoples experience far out weighs most courses in my option, tho you still need these to gain a actual certificate. Not only this but tough volunteering on his car I earn't the respect and attention of other teams who I now also work for. I was working on the Miller Motorsport Evo 9 earlier this year for the Wakefield 300 (We came 1st in class, 3rd overall) and the Oneworld Charters AMG A45 at the Bathurst 6 Hour (We finished 2nd in class, 9th overall), so you can get some pretty insane opportunities though just word of mouth.

Now the question that I wanted to ask is I do most of these on the side of my main job, so I have to balance this, my projects and my additional study. As well as family, friends, etc. What kinda options do I have to look into for turning this into my actual full time career? Being based in Sydney, most Australian V8 Supercar teams are based hours away or in different states, is relocating kinda my only option? Also my main goals are to go to Europe and work somewhere like the Blancpain series and maybe even do a few seasons in the WRC, how would I go about standing out and getting their attention after working at a V8 Supercar team or should I look at making a move to Europe now instead?

Hi Alvin,

I think there are always different ways of getting a chance with overseas teams. I believe the easiest way to do this is to get some experience in a championship that people in Europe and the US know of, V8 Supercars is well known and respected, so this would be a good option for you.

The majority of the people in V8 Supercars are full-timers, but particularly with the smaller teams, there are opportunities to be a paid weekend warrior. Best way in is to aim for a "Main Game" team that has a Super2 car, this is an easier way to crack into it. Once you're part of a Super2 program, you've got a pathway into the Main Game.

Either that, or make the jump, move city and go full-time straightaway!

If you're looking at the WRC, perhaps if you check out some of the 'local' teams in the APRC?

You've already addressed a big issue in that different series tend to be based in specific regions, so there may be the need to move to follow them - if you're single, it's a lot easier than if you have a family to consider.

Thanks for the advice guys, maybe I do just need to grow some balls, send it and move city.

Getting experience with a APRC team or even a smaller local rally team would defiantly be interesting. I don't really have any contacts in that part of the industry yet tho. I guess I just need to get out to rally events more and start meeting people.

Getting out there, handing out your CV and contact details, talking to people face to face and asking what they need help with is the best way if you don't have contacts already. Don't be afraid to take a position that you think is below you either. Getting in the door is one of the harder parts, once you're in, you have something to climb!