Motorsports Career Tips III Formula SAE

Episode 36
December 28, 2014

University of Maine Formula SAE team car #1 being test driven fall of 2011.

University of Maine Formula SAE team car #1 being test driven fall of 2011.

Formula SAE experience invaluable for budding race (or other) engineers As mentioned in last weeks episode, Formula SAE provides a hands-on learning opportunity that is difficult to duplicate at the college level. Formula SAE forces a group of like-minded individuals to work together for the common good of the team. Often times the stress of deadlines competes with classwork, personal life, girlfriends (or boyfriends), and jobs. Those are the same types of real world interests that will try to steal your time and necessitate budgeting and prioritizing  in order to maintain a career in motorsports. Often we see the driver or crewman in the pits at a NASCAR event performing their job as a professional despite the fact that a son or daughter may be sick at home or the lawn needed to be mowed. Since we are placing the emphasis on career building I thought it would be appropriate to hear from four former UMO Formula SAE team members who are now at the beginning of their careers as engineers. As you will see not all of them are directly working in a motorsports career, however, their words of wisdom can almost universally apply.

Luke Saindon formerly from Deer Isle was instrumental in getting a bona-fide Formula SAE team at UMO.

Luke Saindon formerly from Deer Isle was instrumental in getting a bona-fide Formula SAE team at UMO in 2009.

Luke Saindon

Luke has been a tinkerer most of his life. I had the privilege of reviewing his portfolio which went back to his home school days when he built a working to-scale model of Leonardo De Vinci’s flying machine from a picture in the encyclopedia. This 170 page document was a fascinating story of the dozens of projects that this budding engineer either built or was involved in.

One project in particular caught my attention. In his sophomore year at high school he, along with five other students, formed a board of directors to renovate a room at the local community center to provide a safe and entertaining place for area youth to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights, This youth board of directors raised nearly $10,000 from grants they wrote as well as contributions to renovate, hire a director, and implement this dream.

A newspaper report quoted Saindon stating they raised as much as $100 in profits each weekend. Saindon’s dozens of projects included scratch built robots and high-powered rockets. The rockets became his obsession netting him jobs which allowed him to work with rocket engines, NASA internship, as well as controls. I mention all of this to show that a diverse background with self motivated projects are crucial for success in any higher performing career not just motorsports.

Saindon also works with the arts primarily with charcoal sketches and sculpture. He stated in his portfolio, “I believe that engineering and art should work together more closely and would both benefit as a result.”

So how did Formula SAE involvement while at UMO benefit Saindon. In his own words, “The  realities  of  working  with  groups.    For  any  engineer  the  hardest  thing  to  do  is  work   with  other  people.    At  least  this  is  the  case  for  me. ”

“Communication  skills,  and  a   determination  to  keep  going  even  when  things  get  rough  are  just  two  examples  of  what   it  could  help  teach  a  participant.”

“School  doesn’t  even  begin  to  cover  how  hard  it  is  to   keep  a  larger  group  organized,  let  alone  the  work  involved  with  simple  administration   tasks.” Every  engineer  would  love  to  just  sit  around  and  work  on  technical  problems,  but   that  never  happens,  and  unfortunately  that  is  all  school  prepares  you  for.    In  fact,  if  all   you  did  was  sit  around  and  work  on  technical  problems  you  would  be  quickly  left  behind   in  the  engineering  field.”

“You  need  to  be  able  to  communicate  your  ideas,  and  record   your  achievements,  get  the  word  out  there;  and  if  you  find  a  mission  you  are  passionate   about  you  need  to  be  able  to  spread  that  enthusiasm.    At  work  I am  lucky  because  I  get  to   be  just  a ‘technical  engineer’  most  of  the  time,  but  in  fact  I have  been  thankful  for  my   continued  participation  on  Team  Ursa  and  my  past  with  FSAE;  because  without  it  I   would  quickly  lose  any  small  leadership  or  communication  skills  I  manage  to  hang  onto.”

“I  count  on  those  skills  at  brief  but  very  important  moments  at  work,  and  I  know  I  would   be  unprepared  without  my  FSAE  and  Ursa  history.”

 

Team Ursa named after the constellation Ursa Major which means "Great Bear" appropriate for the University of Maine Black Bears. The rocket launch team travelled to Black Rock, Nevada for the launch.

Team Ursa named after the constellation Ursa Major which means “Great Bear” appropriate for the University of Maine Black Bears. The rocket development team travelled to Black Rock, Nevada for the launch.

Saindon has also modified his 1986 Porsche 944 with a Chevrolet  LS 1 aluminum V8 powering it. He machined the adapters and has been fine tuning it for street use as well as autocross competition. He has competed in several Cumberland Motor Club events including making excursions to Loring in Aroostook County, which boasts some of the fastest speeds of any autocross on the East Coast.

“My  current  location  is  Boston, Massachusetts  working  at  Mide  Technology  doing  small  engineering   research  and  development  projects,” said Saindon. “I  love  the  work  because  it  changes  regularly  and  it   involves  tricky  problems  that  teach  me  to  be  a  better  engineer.”

Heman Norris

Heman Norris from New Sharon, Maine grew up in a stock car racing family with his dad, Mike Norris. He has autocrossed a wide variety of cars ranging from 1992 Acura NSX, BMWs, Honda Civic, Mustang Cobra, Scion TC, Mazda 3, Toyota MR2 Spider, Honda S2000, and Porsche 944.

He also had the most racing experience of any of the four UMO Formula SAE team members being featured. Norris was asked about his background and why he got involved in Formula SAE.

He replied, “Getting involved in Formula SAE interested me because I had a strong background in motorsports, I had served as a crew chief (for Mike Norris his Dad) on a pro stock at the track in Wiscasset for three years after having been a race day crew member on a super street for four years, and because it seemed to be a great opportunity to emphasize the more mechanical and technical side of my engineering education.”

“The additional resources I drew upon from the mandatory SAE membership and the educational component of the Formula SAE program enabled me to better understand the suspension tuning and chassis setup that is so critical to autocross, at which I have now vested 7 years and returned two class championships.”

“The additional fabrication skills learned from building the car put me in a more solid position for gaining a job directly after graduation.  Students who had chosen simplistic capstone projects or who lacked internships seemed to struggle to justify their worth to employers.”

“With the Formula SAE’s emphasis on design and technology, to better your car’s capabilities and performance, being balanced with the need for proper engineering communication and reporting, I was better prepared for the needs of the workplace, and feel that placing a successful novice Formula SAE team on my resume gave me an edge.”

“I brought with me my experience as a (stock car) crew chief to my captain’s position on the Formula SAE team, but I bring with me my composites experience in fabricating the body shell and control arms of the Formula SAE car with me to my current position as a Research Engineer at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center.”

UMO Formula SAE team 2010-2011. Back row L to R Alex Morrow, Luke Saindon, Nick Quatrano, Ryan Means, Stephan Becker, Corey Demers, Dwight Whitney, and Sam Allen. Front row Gerard Desjardins, Heman Norris, Lucas and  Jessica Sanborn

UMO Formula SAE team 2010-2011. Back row L to R Alex Morrow, Luke Saindon, Nick Quatrano, Ryan Means, Stephan Becker, Corey Demers, Dwight Whitney, and Sam Allen. Front row Gerard Desjardins, Heman Norris, Lucas and Jessica Sanborn. The 2012 team placed 86th of 109 entries at Michigan International Speedway.

Travis Elliot

Travis Elliot, back row second from left, with his college Formula SAE team-mates and Caribou Tech Center FFA/Ag Mechanics members with the Second Generation Formula SAE car. This is the team and car that finished 64th in 2013.

Travis Elliot, back row second from left, with his UMO Formula SAE team-mates and Caribou Tech Center FFA/Ag Mechanics members who worked on the Second Generation Formula SAE car. This is the team and car that finished 64th in 2013.

Travis Elliot from Mt. Vernon, Maine graduated from Maranacook Community School in 2009. While majoring at the University of Maine at Orono he began getting involved in the Formula SAE team his junior year and led the team his senior year.

His primary job was suspension design and fabrication. He and his UMO team mates worked in collaboration with Caribou Technology Center Welding students, Caribou FFA/Ag Mechanics class members, and master machinist/fabricator Richard McNeal of Presque Isle. The high school members helped build suspension brackets, tie rod and coil- over shock mounts, and fuel cell fabrication.

Master machinist/fabricator Richard McNeal a 1972 University of Maine Ag Engineering department graduate and Desiree Fuhrmann Lavallee FFA/Ag Mechanics student at Caribou Tech Center. They are examining the carbon fiber suspension components they helped construct.

Master machinist/fabricator Richard McNeal a 1971 University of Maine Ag Engineering department graduate and Desiree Fuhrmann Lavallee FFA/Ag Mechanics student at Caribou Tech Center. They are examining the carbon fiber suspension components they helped construct.

Tyler Raymond of Caribou Tech Center's FFA/Ag Mechanics and Welding program. The lightweight fuel tank was fabricated for use in the UMaine Formula SAE car.

Tyler Raymond of Caribou Tech Center’s FFA/Ag Mechanics and Welding program. The lightweight fuel tank was fabricated for use in the UMaine Formula SAE car.

Elliot and team successfully completed the Formula SAE car in time to compete at Michigan International Speedway in May 2013. The Maine Formula SAE team finished all areas of the competition 64th of 108 teams from all around the United States and the world.

Elliot went to work for Honda USA directly after graduating for University of Maine in the Spring of 2013. He worked at manufacturing engineering which did not satisfy his desire to work on actual cars. He heard of a job opportunity at Roush Industries headquartered in Livonia, Michigan.

He currently is employed in Roush’s  Allen Park location in the Detroit area as a chassis engineer. His department works on Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), Finite Element Analysis (FEA), design and release, concept geometry, static and dynamic vehicle benchmarking, chassis and component durability testing, and constructing functional show vehicles.

Elliot attributes much of his fortune in landing this job to the interview where his enthusiasm for Formula SAE was apparent. “They would rather hire a Formula SAE participant that may be wet-behind-the ears than one who does not have that experience or display such traits,” said Elliot in a phone interview.

“I am currently located in Michigan, where I now happily work as a Chassis Design Engineer for Roush Industries!  I am very happy with the move I made, as I feel like I am on the Formula car team once more, and doing ‘Real’ Engineering work!”
Elliot continued saying,”In terms of how FSAE has impacted my career, It is one of the main reasons why I got the job at Roush in the first place.  Many employers like to see the enthusiasm that FSAE students have for the cars and technology that goes into them.  Being on the team also gave me many useful skills in the shop and on the computer that have allowed me to succeed and be where I am today.  It also bestowed me with a certain additional amount of ‘mechanical common sense’ of many things relating to the automotive industry.”
Elliot was not a gearhead in high school but became one once he saw what the University of Maine Formula SAE team was attempting to accomplish. The hands- on projects offered by his participation fueled his desire to learn all he could about automobile and racecar  systems.
The motivation to help others with developing their own pathway in motorsports or automotive field has sparked a desire within him to help with future Formula  SAE events. Elliot said, “As I am located right next to Michigan International Speedway, I hope to go out to the next competition and volunteer/judge as a Roush/Ford Employee.”
Nick Quatrano
Nick had no major experience with motorsports prior to his involvement with the University of Maine Formula SAE team. He responded to my interview question saying, “I always had an interest in cars and motorsport, always reading the magazines, but did not have any experience. When Luke (Saindon) mentioned that he was starting a team, it seemed like a great way learn. “
“My favorite part of working on the car was building the suspension links – a friend on the team showed me how to use the milling machine, lathe, and TIG welder, and from there I was able to fabricate the front and rear control arms, pushrods, toe links, and tie rods.”
” Completing the bodywork was another highlight – it was a very tedious process, so to see it come together was exciting. Driving the car was a huge highlight too, and part of what I like about my current job – it’s great to be able to drive a vehicle that you have spent a lot of time and effort designing and building.”
Quatrano went to work for Ford USA directly after graduation from Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maine at Orono in 2012. He said, “I have worked as a chassis engineer at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI for the past two years.”
“My first assignment was in Wheels & Tires on Superduty (trucks). I then moved to the suspension group, where I was responsible for the performance pack control arm on the new Mustang, followed by 9 months in Flat Rock for the launch of the 2015 Mustang. Currently, I work on springs and dampers for the 2015 Edge and MKX.”

When asked about how Formula SAE experience helped him while in  college Quatrano said, “Being part of a large group working towards completing a vehicle was the most important part. Just as in a ‘real world’ situation, your design can’t always be optimized if it is going to interfere with someone else’s part. In that sense it teaches a lot about interfaces – one is not likely to be responsible for every component on a vehicle, so it is important to work closely with others on the team and make sure everything will fit.”

“Working through timing plans is another aspect that would not be learned from an engineering textbook. On the scale of an auto manufacturer, there are thousands of people working to bring a car to the market. Being responsible for the part that delays a vehicles launch is not a good place to be. This is similar to FSAE – each group on the team (in our case, suspension, engine, and drivetrain) needed to develop a plan to get our parts completed in time to allow for testing.”

“I have been able to use many of the CAD skills gained through FSAE in design for my job. Even though the systems are different, being able to think through the design of parts has helped greatly.”

“Most important was the hands on experience gained by fabricating components and assembling the car. Working at an OEM, ease of assembly is always a part of the design. The car needs to be able to be put together quickly and efficiently to maximize output. I have been able to use many of the skills learned through FSAE on personal projects outside of work.”

Final thoughts on Part III

I fully realize that not every person who wants to be involved in motorsports is interested in an engineering degree at UMO. In fact the Formula SAE team at UMO is no longer existent due to a variety of issues. There are other such programs as close as University of New Hampshire. Some FSAE  programs are power houses that can be researched on-line before applying to a particular school.

In the end it comes down to the individual! The person that you look at in the mirror every morning will determine just how much sacrifice and hard work you are willing to put in to accomplish your goal.

Part IV will be in next week’s episode. I was absolutely thrilled to write about the stories of these four UMO grads featured this week. In no way will I claim to have told the complete story of each of these talented individuals.

Let’s go racing!

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing.