How It's Done: Building Engineering Skills By Building Racecar Motors

engineering skills racecar engine
(Image credit: Chris Overfelt)

One high school found the best way to rev up learning was to teach engineering skills through building racecar engines and other motor sports challenges. The class also includes field trips to Martinsville, Bristol, and Charlotte racetracks; constructing a drag racing car; and riding in the Burton race car at a local track. 

Who: Chris Overfelt, Motorsports instructor at Burton Center for Arts & Technology

Where: Roanoke County Public Schools, Roanoke, VA

What: Teaching Engineering Skills through Building Racecar Motors

We implemented the Motorsports class in 2002 after engine building was placed on the state competencies. In 2011, we discovered that the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition was being held in Pennsylvania. As luck would have it, we won and went to Nationals our first year. 

The course is very popular, and it has certainly worked out in the last six years--three national titles, two seconds and a third. All extra time after school and trips are done by the free will of everyone involved. Other programs at the school have included redesigning toy ride-on cars for children with disabilities and reprogramming computers to give to those in need.

Positive Results

This program teaches a lot of hands-on skills and really focuses on the concept and value of teamwork. When the team does well they win scholarship money for tech colleges. Team Vibrant Performance from the Burton Center for Arts & Technology once again earned the nod as the best engine building team in the nation. On Dec. 8 the team took their third national championship at the annual Hot Rodders of Tomorrow championship in Indianapolis with a final average time of 17:26. 

engineering skills

(Image credit: Chris Overfelt)

Biggest Challenge

While Motorsports is a course at BCAT, the Hot Rodders portion of my class is extracurricular. We have had to work extra hard to develop this part of the class. Every year students leave the team, so sometimes it's hard to fill their spots. It requires hand tools and a lot of dedication from everyone involved. Funding is the largest hurdle.

Finding Funding

All travel and money needed for the program is self-funded by the students and myself. Some seasons we travel as much a several thousand miles. We solicit local businesses for help covering costs. (This part is the hardest part of all.) 

engineering skills

(Image credit: Chris Overfelt)

Pro Tips

If you want to have the best program it will require a ton of work. Connect with local businesses and share your success to help inspire donations. 

Recently, Advance Auto Parts, through the Good360 Foundation, donated 27 pallets of supplies to the BCAT Automotive Technology and Motor Sports programs. Items such as motor oil, anti-freeze, windshield washer fluid, wax and other car care items were provided, which represented thousands of dollars of materials.

Tech Skills

  • Welding
  • Fabricating
  • Auto painting
  • Engine performance
Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.