UNC Charlotte Legends Team Competing in Summer Shootout
While most college students are enjoying the lazy days of summer, a small group of mechanical engineering students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are hard at work, chasing a victory in the Quaker Steak & Lube Summer Shootout Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On any given weekday, six to 10 students can be found working on the No. 49 Legends Car that Drew Calhoun, a 21-year-old senior from Charlotte, drives each Tuesday night in the Pull-A-Part Legends Car Pro division.
The students spend 10 to 25 hours per week maintaining and preparing the green-and-white Legends Car. They work in a state-of-the-art, on-campus race shop supervised by Steve Johnson, manager of the Department of Mechanical and Engineering Science's motorsports laboratory. The time counts toward the 40 hours per month that each mechanical engineering student concentrating on motorsports is required to work in the lab.
"On the Legends Car, they work on the optimization of the vehicle-the set-up and engine tuning," Johnson said. "With a series that has rules like this, that's all you can do. The vehicles are the same, the rules are the same, but they don't all drive the same."
"Recently we've been fixing the brakes, scaling the car and straightening it up," added Steve Jessep, 22, director of competition and crew chief for the UNC Charlotte Legends Car. "We have everything and anything in the shop at our disposal, so we have no excuse not to have a good running car."
Although the 40 shop hours are required, these students chose to work on the Legends Car instead of the various other racing vehicles available to the motorsports program.
"Most of us working on this car want to work in NASCAR," said Jessep. "The Legends Car is the only car in the shop that races in a weekly series. The other teams in the program only get to compete once a year with the cars that they design and build."
The competition started early for members of the 49ers Legends Racing team when they were faced with the decision of who to put in the driver's seat. Following a series of runs by several candidates, Calhoun was chosen to drive in the Quaker Steak & Lube Summer Shootout .
Calhoun has been driving race cars since age 12 and he was the 2005 recipient of the Alan Kulwicki Memorial Scholarship, a prestigious award presented by UNC Charlotte's Lee College of Engineering in memory of the 1992 NASCAR champion.
"I really like racing the Legends Car with this team," said Calhoun, who has previous Summer Shootout experience in Bandoleros and Thunder Cars.
"But I haven't performed as well this season as I would have liked to for the team, but it's still a lot of fun."
"We give Drew a tough time," said Jessep, who also works as an engineer with the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Sprint Cup team while completing his degree requirements. "But he really is a good driver and the best person to put behind the wheel. We all trust him."
"This type of hands-on experience looks great on a résumé to NASCAR teams," said Philip Kelly, 21, president of 49ers Legends Racing. "Actually being able to say that you've worked on the race car, that you know how to make the changes and how to implement what's going on with the track is a great asset."
Since 49ers Legends Racing is a student organization, any UNC Charlotte student may participate. While all current members of the team are students in the Lee College of Engineering, the Legends Car was formerly driven by a student majoring in business.
The race team's status as a student organization makes it eligible to receive student funding, which covers about two-thirds of the costs. The team depends on sponsors such as This End Up Furniture Co. and parts contributions from Wood Brothers Racing to cover the remaining expenses.
The 49ers Legends Racing team plans to be at the Quaker Steak & Lube Summer Shootout each Tuesday night through Aug. 12.
Admission is just $7 for adults. Children 6-12 are admitted for $3 and kids under 6 are free. Tickets are available in advance at the speedway ticket office and at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Parking is free.
Spectator gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action at 5:30 p.m. Feature racing begins at 7:30 p.m.
For information, visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or call the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS.