Team Sycamore Racing preps for ninth season.
A new faculty advisor, a new driver and the prospect of an all-female team promise excitement for Team Sycamore Racing’s ninth season of competition.
The student team has competed in the National Hot Rod Association’s North Central Division since 2008 and has operated two dragsters since 2010.
Joining the team for 2016 is third generation driver Brandy Protz of Vandalia, Ill., the first President’s Scholar to take the wheel of a Sycamore race car. Protz started racing at age 9 and set her sights on Indiana State in 2009 when she saw the team’s original 1991 Spitzer dragster, which sports a 427 cubic-inch fuel-injected engine, compete at O’Reilly Raceway Park.
“I looked at my dad and said, ‘I’m going to race that car someday,’” Protz recalled.
“My grandpa got my family into racing,” she said. “He used to sneak out and race at a local track, but he and my dad started a racing team when my dad was 16. The car I race now, a 1964 Chevelle wagon, was my dad’s first race car. Now they have me and my sister, Jenna, who is 10.”
By the time college rolled around, Protz had decided to major in athletic training and discovered Indiana State’s premier program in that field. The offer of a President’s Scholarship was icing on the cake.
“It just worked out,” she said with a smile.
Protz is pursuing a minor in motorsports studies that has been in place since 2006 as a partnership between the colleges of business, technology and health and human services. While not required for racing team members, most are enrolled in the minor and come from throughout the university.
Protz is expected to head an all-female team that will include freshmen crew members Emily and Sarah Lykins, twin sisters from Connersville who are majoring in automotive technology management.
The NHRA has had a long history of female drivers. Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney got her start in 1953, more than two decades before Janet Guthrie became the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500. Protz’s grandmother also raced. There are now more high-pro- file women racing throughout motorsports, including INDYCAR and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and sisters Ashley and Courtney Force in NHRA.
“It helps that there are professional female drivers to look up to,” she said, recalling that she researched a high school class presentation about Muldowney.
Sam Steinberg, a senior mechanical engineering technology major from Indianapolis, will drive Indiana State’s newer car, a 2002 Undercover dragster with a 488 cubic-inch General Motors big block engine
equipped with a conventional carburetor. He has experience racing his own car, a 2004 Pontiac GTO, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It’s like getting shot out of a cannon,” he says of the experience in describing his love for racing.
Steinberg came to Indiana State planning to major in computer engineering technol- ogy, but the professor he met with had keys to the automotive lab, “and when I saw the dragster I knew I had to be a part of it,” he said.
Steinberg said Team Sycamore Racing is a great complement to his classroom experience.
“We learn how to do all kinds of things inside the engine and then we can apply that to a high-performance engine. It ties in with the chassis class as well and really with everything that’s going on here,” he said.
Mike Davis, who joined Indiana State as automotive engineering technology instructor this year after 12 years at Ivy Tech Community College-Wabash Valley, didn’t have to think long about accepting the job.
“What’s not to like?” he said. “I was moving from the community college to a university and with the responsibility of running a racing team. It’s a dream job and there is great support from the department and the college and the students are just excellent. Every day I’m enthused and energized by coming into the classroom and seeing their reactions to new material. It makes it fun.”
The team races mostly on the eighth-mile course at Crossroads Dragway in Terre Haute, which Davis calls “a wonderful and competitive training ground,” but he’d like to see the students compete at quarter-mile venues in the region.
Davis is excited about “seeing the team develop and have a marketable presence in the industry so that Indiana State is recognized and that Team Sycamore is recognized as a competitive team,” he said. “We have been in the past and we have all the tools to do it. We need to start marketing for funding for partnerships. We have excellent students. It’s looking up. I think we’re going to move forward nicely.”
Since its launch in 2006, the motor-sports minor has seen enrollment of 25 to 50 students at a time, but the program has a broader influence. A survey of motorsports course created for the minor is now embedded in the university’s foundational studies course as an upper-division elective. As part of their studies, students visit a dragstrip and write a paper about their experience.
“So while we may have only a few dozen students in the minor, we have hundreds of students taking this course every semester,” said Randy Peters, chair of the department of applied engineering and technology management.
Graduates of the motorsports program work for some high profile teams. Several have positions with Don Schumacher Racing in NHRA while others, including John Rosselli, ’10, work in NASCAR.
Rosselli worked for INDYCAR following graduation, then spent two years at the Auto Research Center in Indianapolis, working on aerodynamic wind testing, before landing a position with Richard Childress Racing. He does composite bodywork during the week and is a tire changer on weekends.
“They knew I played baseball (in high school and at Vincennes University); they knew I was an athlete and I was still in pretty good shape, so I tried out for the pit crew team,” he said.
Rosselli and other crewmembers work out during the week with weight training and other activities and conduct drills in order to make pit stops even faster.
“It’s become a science now,” he said. “Time in the pit is time on the track. It all comes down to whatever time you can scrub is good time.”
A 12-second tire change was considered good last year, but Childress and other teams have gone from five lug nuts to four, shaving a full second off that time, Rosselli noted.
Learning automotive dynamics, chassis systems and management at Indiana State helped prepare Rosselli for his career.
“Just being on time, being orderly and organized. One of the biggest things at our race shop is just having all your ducks in a line and making sure everything is perfect,” he said. “That’s what I always liked about the program. It was organized.”
Megan Jackson, ’12, of West Terre Haute, combined the motorsports minor and Team Sycamore experience with a bachelor’s degree in technology engineering education. A West Vigo High School teacher and Indiana director for SAE International’s Supermileage Challenge, in which high school students build and race high mileage cars, Jackson also races her own rear-engine dragster and said her experiences at State prepared her well for all of her current ventures.
“It gave me more leadership experience than I could ever have imagined,” she said. “I was team manager my last two years at ISU. Getting people together for meetings really helped me in the teaching field because I’m in charge of different organizations and different clubs at school. We did a lot of school visits with Team Sycamore Racing when I was at ISU. That experience has been extremely helpful.”
While she raced dirt bikes in high school, Jackson said her family went from “not knowing anything about racing to running our own show. I’m a hands-on learner and being able to learn about the automotive industry and marketing while doing it at the same time helped me. I can go and recruit sponsors for my car and I would never have known where to begin if it had not been for this program.”