Students got to race their cars just like NASCAR drivers — only they built them, too

Students race their cars just like professional drivers — only they built them too

The FIU chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers hosted its first race-car competition at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Students engineered and designed the cars.
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The FIU chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers hosted its first race-car competition at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Students engineered and designed the cars.

College students from around Florida spent Friday testing their automotive skills and racing their self-engineered cars at the Homestead Miami Speedway.

The races were a part of the first race-car competition put together by the team from Florida International University.

“This has helped me by allowing me to use my engineering and apply it,” said Ignacio Hernandez, a junior mechanical engineering major at FIU who co-coordinated the entire competition. “And it’s important to me that students and prospective students, those who may be flirting with the idea of joining a university ... see a community hosting things of this nature and taking it seriously.”

This year, the FIU students did not receive enough funding to attend the annual international Society of Automotive Engineers competition that took place in Michigan in May, so Friday’s event was their alternative. Although the UCF team was able to attend the national competition, the team’s captain, Hoyt Hicks, said that they chose to participate in this smaller race to network and advance their skills.

The FAU car takes to the starting line for a test run at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jose A. Iglesias

It’s always great competing. … There are other people doing the exact same thing as you, working just as hard as you, if not harder, so it kind of motivates the team to do more,” said Hicks, who is a senior mechanical engineering major. “And the more relationships you make, then the more job opportunities pop up and it’s always great knowledge transferring across Florida Atlantic and FIU.”

Automotive engineering students from FIU, the University of Central Florida and Florida Atlantic University competed in the event, which enabled the students to get hands-on training, according to Andres Tremante, an FIU adviser for the Society of Automotive Engineers.

“Here, they are learning by doing and this is the best lab ever when the students come here … and the car doesn’t work, the battery doesn’t work or the steering doesn’t go 100 percent,” he said. “They are facing real engineering problems that they have to solve right now, not later, not the day after, but right now with their own resources so it’s the best training for any engineer.”

Drivers Juan Manuel Carrizosa, left, sitting on tire, and Andy Rojas (in the cockpit) discuss strategy with other FIU teammates before heading out for more test runs. Jose A. Iglesias

Tremante said FIU hopes to expand on these efforts in March and create an event that includes schools across the United States, South America and Central America. A student from Cornell University’s team who came to watch the race said that he would love to participate in something like this in the future.

“An event down here would be a great time,” said William Nuñez, a sophomore in the Cornell chapter of Society of Automotive Engineers. “I would like to convince [my team] and maybe some other Northern schools to take off for spring break and hoist a car down here to Miami, come out here racing during the day and go enjoy Miami at night.

“And besides the weather, there are a lot of really competitive teams down here.”