Unlikely Source of Support Backs Comet Motorsports
Ruger Carstens (right), president of Comet Motorsports, poses with vice president Matthew Mueller (center) and head of manufacturing Cherston Warner.
Dr. Sarah Maxwell wouldn’t make much of an automotive engineer. But working on cars is in her blood, and Comet Motorsports has given her a way to foster that link to her heritage.
The UTD student organization participates in the Formula SAE program, which runs competitions for race cars designed, built and driven entirely by college students.
Led by mechanical engineering senior Ruger Carstens, Comet Motorsports has grown in its three years of existence to include 40 active members from majors including electrical, mechanical and computer engineering, as well as programming, business and graphic design.
“Initially, four or five students got Comet Motorsports off the ground,” Carstens said. “It really took off in early 2016, largely thanks to word-of-mouth and online activity.”
Carstens emphasized the enormity of creating and building a viable prototype from scratch, and ensuring it can excel on the track.
“We’re designing everything,” Carstens said. “The chassis — the skeleton of the car that holds everything together — we’ve welded that ourselves. The design has to be perfect, or the vehicle won’t stand up to the stress.”
Welding work isn’t in the wheelhouse of Maxwell, an associate professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, focusing on public policy matters. But she cherishes her family’s ties to the early automotive industry, dating back three generations.
“My great-grandfather, Karl Peterson, invented the crescent wrench,” Maxwell explained. “My grandfather, Marvin Peterson, ran the Crescent Tool Company. We have a small family foundation, and this is something my grandfather would’ve loved. It’s a nice opportunity to do something in his name.”
Coincidentally, her grandfather’s story intersects with one bound for UT Dallas.
“We found out that Marvin Peterson was very good friends with [UTD co-founder] Erik Jonsson in the 1920s,” Maxwell said. “They both went to Rensselaer, and they graduated a year apart. They were part of a group that met once a year for decades.”
Faculty advisor Josh Blanchard works for the Office of the Provost as a Project Engineer for the new Engineering and Computer Science West building. He has worked with the University to ensure that Comet Motorsports has a facility to work in now but also in the new building. A former Formula SAE participant at the University of Missouri, he has provided guidance and competition expertise for the team.
“There’s no better competition that combines all the systems and elements of engineering into one event,” said Blanchard, who emphasized that the students make all the decisions. “I can’t steer them in a direction, I can’t tell them how to do it. This is all the students, their work, their design – I’m just a sounding board to make sure they’re not doing anything crazy.”
A visualization of the UTD race car framework.
Carstens cited existing Formula SAE teams at nearby schools as crucial catalysts in the program’s early stages.
“Within Formula SAE competition, everyone is very open — they will tell you, ‘Here’s what to watch out for as a first-year team.’ The experience has been great.
“We got a lot of help from Dr. Bob Woods at UT Arlington — he actually helped write the rulebook for the original SAE competition,” Carstens said. “He met with us multiple times to help us get going. The University of North Texas helped as well.”
Maxwell stressed that Carstens’ leadership has played a key role in the organization’s growth.
“Ruger’s personality and leadership skills make him great at getting the message out,” Maxwell said. “They’ve done such a good job of communicating, bringing contributors into the fold, and maintaining those relationships. And Ruger, people just rally around him.”
UTD Motorsports has received corporate backing from 28 companies, including Goodyear, Peterbilt and Lockheed Martin.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to get to tour Lockheed and Peterbilt facilities, thanks to their ties to the Formula SAE program,” Carstens said. “We also were able to request custom-made tires from Goodyear.”
The club has already helped several of its members earn internships or employment in automotive capacities. Carstens explained that many heavy-hitting auto-industry companies scout the SAE circuit.
“Just in the past year, we’ve had eight internships and three full-time job offers come in from companies like BMW, Honda and Toyota. Formula SAE participants are scouted by SpaceX and many car companies.”
– Ruger Carstens, mechanical engineering senior
Arye Levi has been with Comet Motorsports since its early stages, doing design, analysis and research. He served as chief engineer before transitioning to a project manager role, and worked as an engineering co-op at BMW in South Carolina for 8 months.
“This project sets us apart from our peers due to our practical application of classroom concepts, hands-on experience, and demonstrated ability to work on high-level projects with minimal instruction,” Levi explained. “The mentality of constant improvement and review of my own performance that I developed on this project aligned closely with the company culture of BMW.”
Levi has found that his design work at UTD made his current role at BMW a less-difficult shift.
“Nearly all of the skills I rely heavily upon at BMW were cultivated or strengthened by my time at Comet Motorsports, especially when it comes to CAD (computer-aided design),” Levi said. “My participation in UTD Motorsports has certainly prepared me for industry and opened several doors for me along the way.”
Maxwell also highlighted the training for employment.
“You come to a university both to learn skills like critical thinking and to grow into a job candidate,” Maxwell said. “To me, this activity is the perfect combination: It’s applied in-class knowledge that trains you in this skill set on top of everything you’ve already learned.”