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1999 Mazda Miata to Be Turned Into Race Car by College Students

A group of engineers from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts have entered in the Grassroots Motorsports $2017 Challenge and have begun prepping a 1999 Mazda Miata to compete. Smith College is a small women’s liberal arts school with an accredited engineering program, from which students graduate with a B.S. in Engineering Science.

Team leader Gracie Hackenberg (’18) says, “The idea came about after our engineering department hosted Dean Case, Communications Officer at Mazda Motorsports, for a presentation on campus.” After the presentation, a group of interested students were invited by Case to Watkins Glen in New York for NASA’s Eastern States Championship. Some of the students were inspired by the experience to continue with a major automotive project. The team is made up of very diverse interests. Only one team member has a background in motorsports and a passion to continue in the field after graduation. Team member Alysha de Silva (’18) says, “Motorsports are not my ideal field of engineering, but how could I turn down the opportunity Gracie presented to actually build a race car?!” For many team members, this will be their first time working on a car. Hackenberg notes, “This is a very unique team where all of our individual passions for different fields of engineering really complement each other and allow for a new perspective that is uncommon on many race teams.”

The Grassroots Motorsports $2017 Challenge calls for teams to turn a production vehicle into a race car on a budget of just $2,017. It’s a two-part racing event in Gainesville, Florida in October, including an autocross race and a drag race. The engineers from Smith College have chosen a 1999 Mazda Miata with a 1.8-liter engine purchased for $600 from Hale Motorsports. The car needed a considerable amount of work done to get it race ready. The team has bent and welded a full roll cage, installed bodywork, and just got the engine running. Next up is a race seat and engine modifications, the first of which will be a cold air intake.

The team is not an official club on campus and is not receiving funding from the school or the very small engineering program. They have fundraised the entire budget for the car already, but still need donations to purchase automotive tools, pay for car transportation, and travel for the students. Visit their fundraising page for more information.

Hackenberg says, “This has been such a great learning opportunity for us. We have made so many valuable connections in the industry and gained experience in all of the behind-the-scenes fundraising and planning involved in prepping a car to race.” The team is extremely grateful for guidance and inspiration from Dean Case, and to Randy Hale from Hale Motorsports for his continued mentorship.

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