From BodyShop Business
Larsen Motorsports (LMS), an award-winning innovator in jet drag racing, and Florida Tech, known for its expertise in aerospace and aviation, along with Valspar Automotive, a global leader in refinishing technology, recently joined forces to provide students with hands-on training in Larsen’s new 30,000-square-foot facility in Palm Bay, Florida.
The partnership helps grow and promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) core curriculums, which are taught to Florida Tech students in the classroom and then put to use at Larsen Motorsports.
“It’s a partnership of business and education at its best,” said Chris Larsen, LMS president. “We’re so proud of this relationship, and what it’s doing for these future engineers is immeasurable. We pay for every nut and bolt in our facility, and we couldn’t do this without the help of Valspar Automotive and other affiliates and partners.”
Chris and his wife, Elaine, co-founders of LMS, grew up in Michigan, immersed in auto manufacturing. They witnessed the decline of U.S. companies and the reduction of engineers with real skill sets. “We saw the decline in skilled engineers with our own eyes, and it had a huge impact on us and our families,” said Larsen. “We wanted to contribute somehow to this generation – to help bridge the gap and give these young engineers an opportunity to learn hands-on skills.”
The Larsens found their way to contribute and now employ 15 to 20 Florida Tech student interns with the goal of providing them with practical skill sets.
In the Valspar Automotive Composite Lab, students use U.S. Chemical & Plastics composites and Matrix Automotive Finishes coatings to build components from full-size funny car bodies to the nose cones and inlets of jet dragsters. Everything is built for adherence to aerospace practices – something the Larsens believe is the most important aspect of their facility and training because of the direct applications to the advanced manufacturing industry that is so critical to the country’s future.
“The students take projects from concept to design to production and into operation,” said Larsen. “They do all of the CAD modeling, complete computer simulations, lay-up prototype parts, make the mold to do a production run of the parts and then actually make the parts that run on the race cars.”
The internships offered to Florida Tech students — most of whom are engineers but also include marketing and business students — are not just school projects that will get filed away at the end of the semester. The Larsens are giving students a unique experience in a fully functional business setting making real race cars that are running the tracks.
“These students are working directly with real jet dragsters,” said Larsen. “What we do is dangerous, and every nut and bolt these students tighten is going to be operating at speeds between 260 and 280 MPH. So even though it’s fun, they take it very seriously because they know they have someone’s life in their hands.”
Both Florida Tech and Matrix Automotive Finishes, a Valspar Automotive brand, are LMS sponsors, and each has a branded jet dragster that’s raced all across the country. The Florida Tech car, which is piloted by two-time IHRA Jet Dragster World Champion Elaine Larsen, was recently featured on an episode of CNBC’s Jay Leno’s Garage.
To learn more about Larsen Motorsports, visit elainelarsen.com. To learn more about the Florida Tech Jet Dragster Racing Team, visit jetdragster.fit.edu. To learn more about Matrix Automotive Finishes, visit matrixsystem.com.