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Formula for success

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A popular race car program at the University of New Mexico is destined for bigger digs, thanks to the largest cash gift ever made to UNM’s School of Engineering.

bright spotThe Dana C. Wood estate has given $3 million to the school – half of which will go toward creating the Dana C. Wood FSAE Racing Lab inside the Farris Engineering Center. The lab will give UNM’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers program more room to build race cars for international student competition.

The program currently operates out of 2,400 square feet of cramped basement space, limiting the number of students who can work at the same time, according to John Russell, a mechanical engineering professor and the program director.

While UNM had set aside 7,000 square feet in Farris for the program, the space had no electricity or heat. Russell said the $1.5 million will allow the program to finish the lab and perhaps add tools it could not accommodate in the past, from a drill press to an engine dynamometer. That, in turn, could ultimately improve the team’s competitive performance.

UNM has been relying on sponsors to donate some parts it did not have the equipment to make in-house, but waiting on those parts sometimes delayed the cars’ testing, Russell said.

UNM students in the Formula Society of Automotive Engineering program design and build race cars for an annual competition

UNM students in the Formula Society of Automotive Engineering program design and build race cars for an annual competition. Above, Corey D’Antoni drives one of the program’s cars. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“Without testing it for about three months, you’re taking a car that really isn’t ready,” Russell said. “That’s been our downfall the last three years.”

Russell said about 50 students start each spring in UNM’s race car design course, the first in a three-course series that progresses to race car building and race car testing. The students ultimately take their car to an annual competition in Lincoln, Neb., where they represent UNM as the LOBOMotorSports team.

UNM, which launched its program in 1997, has ranked as high as fifth nationally, Russell said.

Russell said it’s a popular program that enhances students’ engineering know-how while also providing other practical skills; among his requirements is a weekly stand-up briefing on the status of the vehicle.

“I run it like a company to get them ready for the real job when they get out there,” he said.

Wood, an entrepreneur who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from UNM, died in 2013. His family has previously donated to the School of Engineering and to the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he had been treated.

Russell called the donation an “amazing” gift to the race car program, especially because Wood studied civil – not mechanical – engineering at UNM.

The rest of the Wood contribution will fund upgrades to UNM’s structures-and-materials lab and civil engineering computer lab, and endow a position in the department of civil engineering.

In a statement, Engineering Dean Christos Christodoulou said the new Wood gift “will benefit the school and students in several important ways, and will go a long way toward enhancing our reputation among peers and prospective students.”

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