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Work Life: Race car engineer

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Tess Vigeland: It’s no shock that most companies are looking to cut spending. We’ve already talked about the jobs news — the unemployment rate jumping to 7.6 percent. But I’m still surprised when I see some of the cost cutters in action.

Case in point, NASCAR. The racing organization recently announced a series of edicts aimed at saving some green. From monitoring the number of crew members to rules about engine use. While that might not affect the average person, it might concern the subject of this week’s Day in the Work Life.

Let’s just say, this kind of thing gets his engine going.

Matthew Niles: My name is Matthew Niles and I’m a race car engineer.

We are now out in the pit lane at Laguna-Seca Raceway in California. I work out here on this big box known as a timing stand and this is where I work while the race car is out on the track.

So I’m looking at a computer that is connected to the race car via radio. We have hundreds of sensors on the race car that are telling us everything from engine temperatures, coolant pressures, the tires, and it goes on and on and on. There’s upwards of 300 different parameters that I can look at while the car is running.

I studied mechanical engineering while I was in college and out of college I started working for a guy who builds off road race cars, actually. And working with him I covered everything from electronics to fabricating metal, welding. And then I was able to get a job working with Acura.

In this type of racing the races are long enough that you can actually change a lot of your car to fix things that go wrong. And we have basically a full set of an entire car-worth of spare parts sitting here in pit lane. In my case specifically we have a lot of electronic parts that we can change out in case the computer that’s running the engine has a problem or anything like that.

There can be eight or nine or 10 engines here at an event, for four cars running. So we try to be prepared for any sort of disaster. If we had to go through all of those in one event it would be, that’d be a bad weekend.

During the race it can be a little stressful because you’re looking for something to go wrong. And if things go wrong, you have to solve them quickly. When something goes wrong the six other people here look at me and they expect a miracle. So, I have to do that sometimes, if I can.

As an engineer you can start out here, $30,000. As you work your way up, I mean, I think you’re generally looking to be making anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000. And when you move up to the next level, it’s over $100,000. I haven’t made it there yet, so I’m not 100 percent sure where it’s going to be, but…

I really enjoy coming out to the race track. Loud noises and race cars — I mean, it’s sort of every little boys’ dream to be able to come out here and play with race cars as their job.

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