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Sun Devil Motorsports promotes newest vehicle before crossing the finish line

Sun Devil Motorsports encourages ASU talent and commitment to engineering through a year-long motor competition


A line of cars at the Sun Devil Motorsports team's collaborative car expo on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 in Tempe.

The echoing acceleration of a car the size of a go-kart complements its tight turns around orange cones, speeding across long distances while a crowd snacks on free hot dogs at a car expo, promoting Sun Devil Motorsports’ latest Formula SAE vehicle. 

Sun Devil Motorsports hosted a collaborative autocross display and car expo on Feb. 25, partnering with We Don’t Lift Racing – a racing parts company in Tempe. Rockstar Energy Drink and Bounce, an events coordinating app, were also present at the event. The event promoted the organization's journey this year to compete at a design competition in Michigan. 

Formula SAE is a program meant to promote graduate and undergraduate students’ talents to companies, challenging students to construct a single-seat race car and develop the best overall design package, performance and cost, according to the SAE International website. 

The 12-month process starts right after their annual competition at the Michigan International Speedway – an event called Formula SAE hosted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Following the event, the team can begin manufacturing their new vehicle using the feedback they receive about their previous model. 

A member of Sun Devil Motorsports driving the SDM23 at a collaborative car expo on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 in Tempe.

"Students learn from doing this, and it is absolutely exponential, and it's absolutely amazing for the resume because it all comes back to the competition where there are industry professional engineers who come," said Hunter Quinlan, a senior studying marketing and the president of Sun Devil Motorsports. "It feels like they’re berating your design, but it's them teaching you how they do it in industry." 

Quinlan said he was initially an engineering student his freshman year, growing his passion for vehicles through moments like restoring a '67 Mustang in high school and joining the club early in his college career. 

Motorsports members said there were difficulties after 2019 – many sponsorships the organization received were lost due to COVID-19, and the team was also unable to pass their tech inspection at the Michigan Speedway in 2021, preventing them from competing. 

In 2022, they could finally perform at the speedway again, but their vehicle faced complications in the last event, which ultimately led to them not being able to finish the last drive. 

"It's really sad to see that happen, but that's just racing," Quinlan said. "That's how it is, but we're planning to come back better and stronger this year."  

Quinlan said that one of the benefits of being in the organization is the funding the University gives Motorsports, allowing students to express their passion for the many aspects of vehicle manufacturing while not having to pay out of pocket for car parts. Quinlan now works mainly in a leadership role as the president, deviating from his original work as a manufacturing team member. 

Quinlan also said members of the organization dedicate 20-40 hours a week in their shop working on the vehicle, while their chief engineer usually builds for up to 60 hours. 

"Motorsports is one of the most difficult and expensive hobbies of all time," said Mason Murphy, a junior studying construction management and technology and the chief engineer at Sun Devil Motorsports. "However, it is engineering at its heart. It is pushing the absolute limit of whatever you design, whatever you build, and when you go out there, you have your fun with it." 

The competition’s biggest pull for students to commit dozens of hours per week to the organization is the ability to present their talents as engineers to manufacturing companies that attend the event, such as Tesla and Boeing. 

Murphy said he joined the team 18 months ago, pursuing his passion for composite engineering.

"I have been a gearhead all my life," Murphy said. "There are pictures of me as young as two or three years old on the floor of my dad's Camaro."

Since he first started working with Sun Devil Motorsports, Murphy has received two separate job offers he could pursue out of college. Murphy said the companies did not ask him for his name or his major before offering the job since his work with composites on the vehicle had already impressed them. 

"Anybody can design anything," Murphy said. "But only some people can design things that can actually be made." 

According to Adam Trupp, a senior studying supply chain management and the chief operations officer at Sun Devil Motorsports, ASU gives the organization around $20,000-$30,000 at the start of the year, which comes from funding and other ASU partners. The rest of the money typically comes from sponsors or donations. 

Trupp also said that their goal this year was to reduce the vehicle's weight by about 80 to 60 pounds and add another 50 horsepower to the car. They are now working with a four-cylinder engine, doubling the two-cylinder engine design they had last year, to improve power.  

The interactive nature of the organization gives students experiences they can take with them into the engineering field. 

"That is your resume," Trupp said. "You can brag about that to anyone you want, and it's very impressive. It is full hands-on that you're not going to get anywhere else in the ASU community." 

Edited by Katrina Michalak, Walker Smith and Alexis Heichman

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