KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee’s success in alternative fuel competitions gives it an advantage in the newly-formed college auto racing circuit, the head of the team said Friday.
Dr. Jeff Hodgson, a UT-Knoxville mechanical engineering professor, said knowledge, facilities and equipment obtained through UT’s strong alternative fuel programs will come in handy for intercollegiate racing.
In 10 alternative fuel vehicle competitions since 1989, UT has won three and finished among the top four teams nine times, Hodgson said.
“It’s definitely going to help us,” Hodgson said. “Not only do we have an established reputation in motor vehicles, but we have been able to build up a laboratory and facilities and garner university support. That is a big plus.”
It was announced Thursday that Tennessee, South Carolina, Duke, North Carolina Charlotte and North Carolina State will compete in the inaugural intercollegiate race July 26 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A second race with as many as 20 teams is set for Charlotte’s Winston Cup Weekend Oct. 3-5. Plans are being made for several more races next year.
Top engineering students from each school will form racing teams to run identically prepared Legend cars –a scale model of a 1934 Ford powered by a Yamaha motorcycle engine.
Drivers will have flame retardant suits and helmets, and precautions will be taken to make the race as safe as possible, Hodgson said.
“I’m not sure how we would have handled this (racing) if we had come into this cold, without the alternative fuel contest experience,” Hodgson said. “Of course, we probably would not have been coming into it at all because we would not have been invited if we had not had the alternative fuel success.”
Hodgson said the sport will help college students become better engineers.
“Motorsports is a large industry that employs a lot of engineering graduates,” Hodgson said. “This is an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience and actually operate these vehicles, yet be in a controlled environment.”
David “Butch” Irick, a UT-Knoxville doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering and one of UT’s student drivers, said top speeds probably will reach only about 70 mph. Still, the competitive thrill of racing greatly enhances the academic benefits, he said.
“This is a great educational opportunity, but for me it will also be pure pleasure,” Irick said. “This is something I have dreamed about. Our experience in alternative fuel vehicles has helped get us ready for it.”
Contact: Dr. Jeff Hodgson (423-974-5294)