When one thinks of motorsports careers, most of the attention is on the driver. Start in karts, then Spec Miata, move up to MX-5 Cup, and so on. But what about those seeking careers on the technical side? For decades, that path has often meant Formula SAE or SAE Baja, and being recruited to a car company. But as with racing, there is no single path.
This past year, a team of engineering students from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts plotted their own path. One that combined the spirit and heritage of their school with that of Mazda Motorsports. The team from Smith College, 72 miles from Lime Rock, built a Miata to compete in the Grassroots Motorsports $2017 Challenge. They finished seventh overall, from 40 entries. They were second among the colleges, second among rookie teams and the highest place Mazda. They earned the respect of the competitors and judges.
A little background on Smith College, as they have a rather new engineering program. Founded in 1871, Smith College opened in 1875 with 14 students. Today, Smith is among the largest women’s colleges in the United States, with students from 48 states and 68 countries. In 2004, Smith College made history when 19 women graduated as part of the first class of engineers ever from an all-women’s ABET-accredited engineering program.
Smith College engineering student Gracie Hackenberg, along with classmates Alysha de Silva and Jessica Wert, inspired by a campus visit from Mazda Motorsports, decided that the Grassroots Motorsports $2017 Challenge was the best place to develop their skills, and ideally showcase that talent in front of engineering managers with the ability to hire. The extended Mazda Motorsports family responded. Long Road Racing was among the first to donate to their GoFundme campaign, signing up at the level that included the student resume book. Others to contribute included F.A.S.T, Moss Motors, Bridgestone Tires, and Black Armor Helmets.
Randy Hale from Hale Motorsports was impressed enough to hire Gracie as an intern and connected her with a $600 Miata that became the base for the race car. Randy noted that, “Gracie was very passionate about building her first race car. I gave her some direction on welding and wiring and she took off. She was driving three hours each way to come to the shop to build the Mazda,” said Randy. “That in itself shows her commitment to this project. I can’t wait to have Gracie back at the shop working on race cars.”
The seventh place finish was not the only highlight. The team earned the GRM Editors’ Choice Award. David Wallens, Editorial Director, Grassroots Motorsports noted that, “Gracie Hackenberg faced our $2017 Challenge with the deck stacked against her: no shop, no tools, no car and, to be honest, not a ton of hands ready to help, said David. “But she had the drive and determination to overcome those odds, turning a cast-off Miata race car into a cool competitor. Gracie said that she wants to build race cars, and her Miata shows that she can get that job done. That’s why she received our Editors’ Choice Award.”
We’ll leave the final words to Gracie who was featured in the Wall Street Journal, Autoweek, and on the Smith College Alumnae page as to how the event tied in to her career aspirations. Gracie noted that, “A lot of people at the event are engineers in different fields—sound engineers, electrical engineers—so it was definitely a networking opportunity for me. Also, it’s just great experience for me when I go looking for a motorsports job. I want to work in IndyCar or Formula One, but IndyCar’s the dream.
The car will be on display at the New England International Auto Show on January 11-15 at the Boston Convention Center.
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