FULL THROTTLE-ENGINEERING STUDENTS ON THE FAST TRACK
By Lauren Howes '16 | Vol. I Issue 2
"It is one thing for a professor to try and explain a real life situation in class, but you never really think about applying what you learn in the classroom until you experience it," said Jon-Luke Lambright, sophomore manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology major, and member of the 12th Man Pit Crew. Lambright was one of 28 lucky engineering students who was selected to be a member of the 12th Man Pit Crew for NASCAR’s 2014 Duck Commander 500 race in Fort Worth, Texas.
With the help of former Texas A&M engineering student Charles Shaver '80, chairman and CEO of Axalta Coating Systems, Aggie Maroon and the Texas A&M College of Engineering logo appeared on the Axalta sponsored stock car driven by Jeff Gordon on April 7.
"Engineering is integral to racing and the coatings systems we create," said Shaver. "It’s been a real privilege to serve on the Texas A&M Engineering Advisory Council for more than 12 years and now to be able to showcase our alma mater to the NASCAR community and show fellow Aggies how the great engineering education I received has translated into practical application. My career and the opportunities I’ve been able to provide to others all began with my time at the university."
Axalta Coating Systems, a producer and distributor of liquid and powder coatings to the automotive industry, is a sponsor of Hendrick Motorsports. Their driver is none other than Jeff Gordon, who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet SS race car. Besides using its special coating to turn Gordon’s car maroon, Shaver and Axalta provided the 12th Man Pit Crew members with a VIP, behind-the-scenes look at how engineers impact one of the most popular sports in the country.
"Being able to meet the people that support Jeff Gordon and give him the car he needs for each track, and being able to talk with them about all the different engineering that they use definitely makes sitting in class worth it," said Audra Burnap, a senior aerospace engineering major.
The 28-person pit crew was selected from applicants who submitted essays that were reviewed by faculty. From there, the students were interviewed individually and 28 were selected to be members of the 12th Man Pit Crew.
"As a fan, I have personally enjoyed watching the success of the No. 24 team, and as an engineering student I can appreciate the amount of time and energy that goes into providing a car that consistently outperforms the competition," said Andrew West, a sophomore petroleum engineering major. "The knowledge learned from an incredible experience like this [will] resonate with me for the rest of my education and lifetime as an engineer."
The 12th Man Pit Crew had a whole week full of fun festivities. The week of the race, students attended a meet-and-greet with Jeff Gordon and Shaver. Afterwards, the crew participated in an on-campus event where Gordon drove through the center of campus showing off the maroonclad car to the campus community. The Yell Leaders held Yell Practice, and the Texas Aggie Dance Team along with Texas A&M’s mascot, Reveille, were there.
"Actually meeting Jeff on campus was insane," West said. "I’ve watched him race for as long as I can remember, and I was literally speechless when I got to shake his hand for the first time."
That weekend, the 12th Man Pit Crew was shuttled to Fort Worth where they were invited to watch the time trials and the race in the Axalta suite and take a tour of the garage where all the race cars were housed. They watched car inspections and even met other race car drivers, including Danica Patrick and former driver and current Hendrick Motorsports consultant, Ray Evernham. The race was delayed due to rain, but the Pit Crew used the delay to spend more time with celebrity race car drivers and talk with engineers at Axalta.
"A lot of engineering is theory, and being able to see it all put together and it happening in front of your eyes is an experience that can’t be replaced," West said.
"Being on the 12th Man Pit Crew gave me the chance to see the real-world applications of engineering design and to learn from the vast experience of Mr. Ray Evernham while walking around the pits," said sophomore mechanical engineering major Gill Lipton. "My dreams of becoming an engineer in motorsports are much more attainable now, thanks to the Aggie Network and the generosity of Mr. Charles Shaver and Axalta Coating Systems."
It could not fit the weekend more perfectly that in the time trials, Gordon qualified to start the race in the 12th position. Is it a coincidence that 12th Man Pit Crew was there when Gordon qualified for the 12th position to start the race? I think not.
Gordon finished second in the race. For the 28 College of Engineering students, being a part of the 12th Man Pit Crew is an experience they will never forget, and one that the generosity of a former student made possible.
"To be given the opportunity to be a part of the first 12th Man Pit Crew was an honor in itself," Burnap said. "The Aggie alumni are one of the greatest things about A&M, and its constant connection with former students is what keeps the Aggie Spirit alive. To be able to go to the race was awesome, but to have it all happen because of an alumni was what made it so special."