Clemson University is poised to lead the pack in motorsports education. With history that spans nearly two decades, Clemson Motorsports boasts more than 50 graduates who are working at every level of the industry in every series both in the US and abroad.
Two notable motorsports alumni are Greg Erwin who serves as a crew chief for Penske Racing and Mike Nelson who is in his sixth season as Penske Racing South’s Vice President of Operations. In his role, Mike oversees multiple teams including 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski.
At the center of the motorsports program is the Clemson University Brooks Institute for Motorsports. Founded in 1994 by Clemson alumnus Robert H. Brooks, the institute was a way to memorialize NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki, Mark Brooks, Dan Duncan, and Charlie Campbell who perished in a plane crash in 1993.
The institute is focused on giving students experience in all aspects of the motorsports industry with primary interests in business, communications, engineering, marketing, and sports-science. Given its fit with the mission of the Department of Automotive Engineering, the Brooks Institute for Motorsports was moved under the auspices of the department in 2012. The institute is under the leadership of automotive engineering professor Dr. Robert Prucka.
This has been a successful year for the institute as it works toward achieving its strategic goals of creating student experiences in motorsports, positioning Clemson as the top motorsports research and education university in the world, and using the excitement of racing to expose the next generation workforce to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.
The Brooks Institute is heavily involved with the undergraduate Formula SAE and Baja SAE teams with Dr. Prucka serving as advisor to both. Through these teams, the students become excited about the industry and learn the importance of sound engineering as well as teamwork, communication, and responsibility. Graduate students within the Department of Automotive Engineering are providing engineering support and expertise to the teams. The institute also provides financial sponsorship including the purchase of improved machining and safety equipment.
To meet its goal of positioning Clemson as a leader in motorsports education and research, motorsports is being integrated into the automotive engineering curriculum through projects in classes like AuE 893 Advanced Engine Combustion and Emissions. TRD – Toyota Racing donated a race car for students to use in the classroom and for experimental research purposes. Clemson students, both graduate and undergraduate, are working at CU-ICAR on internships that support the link between motorsports and the Department of Automotive Engineering. Students and faculty are looking forward to expanded motorsports offerings in the future.
The greatest strides may have been made in the institute’s efforts to use the excitement of racing to expose the next generation workforce to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. Through its support of Driving SCIENCE, the institute is making STEM education fun for both teachers and students. With classes that take place at NASCAR tracks, the Driving SCIENCE curriculum is fast paced and stimulating. The program exposes educators to the best practices in STEM education and develops an awareness of STEM careers that link to motorsports. In its first year, Driving SCIENCE provided professional development for 125 teachers from 21 school districts in eight states impacting 18,750 students.