UCM Automotive Technology Students Enter the World of Stock Car Racing
Contact: Mike Greife
WARRENSBURG, MO (July 15, 2014) – Members of the University of Central Missouri student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers have turned a dream into reality in the form of a B-modified stock race car that is competing and winning on area dirt tracks.
The club project of building a race car had been discussed by members of the student chapter as early as the late 1990s. The chapter had consistently taken first place in the UCM Homecoming parade for several with mechanically animated floats when they decided they needed a new challenge. Following Homecoming 2011, the idea of building a dirt track race car was back on the table.
“In the spring of 2012, we voted to begin building the car as a club project in Fall 2012,” said Ryan Craig, SAE chapter president. Financing the project was the first major obstacle, and it was the search for a frame, the first step in the construction of the car, that led to a chance meeting between Craig and UCM alumnus Dean Wille.
Wille, the owner of Gator Graphics in Warrensburg, is a 1998 graduate of the UCM automotive technology management program and well-known local modified stock car owner and driver. Craig had accompanied a friend to Wille’s shop to pick up some graphics for a race car when the two met.
“I walked into his shop, and it was like a race car wonderland,” Craig said. Wille offered a car frame for the SAE project at a very reasonable price. Craig also learned that the URSA B-modified race car project also had been Wille’s dream as a UCM student.
“We wanted to do that when I was in school at UCM, but finding the money to buy what we needed always was the obstacle,” Willie said. He also agreed to drive the car in competition once it was completed, eliminating any concerns about the liability involved in allowing students to drive.
The SAE pit crew prepares
With the frame obtained, a group of members of the UCM SAE chapter began work in the fall of 2012 to fulfill their dream. Still working with a minimal budget, they installed a used engine donated by a UCM alumnus. Wille and local race car driver, James McMillen, also a UCM automotive technology alumnus, donated parts, and a series of fundraisers provided the funding for what was needed.
They met their goal of racing in the 2013 season at Grain Valley Raceway, with Wille driving. However, the transmission in the car failed, and the engine they had installed was weak and really didn’t allow the car to be competitive. To finance the cost of repairs, the team overhauled a car donated by a UCM alumnus from St. Louis and sold it. The UCM racing team then learned that building a race car was sometimes secondary to keeping one running.
“We missed a couple of weeks, but we were able to obtain the new crate engine, and we had the car running again,” Craig said. The UCM SAE car finished the 2013 season with a respectable record of three second-place finishes and numerous top-five finishes, also racing in West Plains, Springfield and LaMonte.
Driver Dean Wille confers with
team member Ryan Craig
With the reopening of the Central Missouri Speedway north of Warrensburg for the 2014 racing season, the team was able to bring their car back to Warrensburg to race, claiming six feature wins at midseason.
“We were able to bring the car home,” Craig said. “That was important to us. It’s Dean’s hometown, and it’s where we enjoy local recognition. It’s also where a lot of our financial support has come from.”
Building a B-modified stock car from scratch has provided a group of UCM student with a rare, hands-on opportunity to learn about automotive technology in addition to their classroom studies. However, they also count their partnership with Wille as a valuable part of the total experience.
“It’s been the perfect partnership,” Craig said. “He provided what we needed—a driver. But he also has been willing to share his expertise and provide support throughout the process of building and maintaining the car.”
Wille, who began his racing career while enrolled at UCM, sees working with the UCM team as a way to help the UCM automotive technology program grow while creating a local awareness of short track auto racing.
The UCM SAE B-modified stock car in a feature race at Central Missouri Speedway
“We’ve all worked on the car,” Wille said. “We all own the car together. The SAE students had the passion and knowledge, but they didn’t have a lot of the tools they needed, like a sheet metal brake and equipment for grooving tires. They didn’t have a trailer to get the car to and from the track. It’s great to be able to share what I have with them, and it’s great to know a B-modified car is on the track with UCM SAE on it.”
He also sees the value in helping the team learn about the business side of racing, emphasizing the importance of building strong relationships with business partners and sponsors.
For the team that built the car, the task of keeping it running also is providing valuable experience. Knowing how to fix a race car is one thing, but finding the resources to pay for those repairs and upgrades is also key to the success of the team as whole.
“For most of us, this has been the greatest challenge we’ve faced in our college careers,” Craig said. “It’s convinced us, individually and as a group, that we can meet challenges as they arise. We’ve kept the team together, and we’ve realized our dream. There were so many things that could go wrong, and some did, but we’ve learned to keep going and don’t look back.”
The work won’t stop with the end of the 2014 racing season. As several team members have graduated this spring, new members were added to the team during their freshman year. Craig said the new additions to the team have met the challenges and become solid members of the team.
“We will have to continue to upgrade the car every year,” he said. “What we learn this year we will have to apply this winter, and we’ll ready for the next season, even better.”