Adam Johnson, lead engineer of Husker Motorsports
Adam Johnson, lead engineer of Husker Motorsports

Imagine building a car from scratch. And not just any car, but a high-speed Formula One open-wheel race car.

In a garage just across the street from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Husker Motorsports works diligently to create the quickest, lightest, and most efficient car possible.

Comprised of about 30 members, this entirely student-run organization is tasked with designing, constructing, and then racing a fully functioning racecar.

Creating a car from nothing is not an easy task.

The team starts its initial research process in late June and works until May of the following year when the competition is usually held.

Adam Johnson, senior mechanical engineering major, and Husker Motorsport’s chief engineer is excited with the progress being made on the car the current team built over the past year.

“The goal is to increase the performance of the car as best as possible,” Johnson said. “And the whole point of the competition is to gain engineering experience, but we obviously want to do well in competition.”

The Formula SAE competition will be held from May 18 to May 21  in Brooklyn, Michigan, and expects each team to produce a competitive car. 

The club dedicates the months of July and August to researching. Then August through October are for designing. November and December are for manufacturing the materials, and finally, in January, the team began to build. 

As of right now, Johnson said that Husker Motorsports is wrapping up on the final build of its car, wanting a couple of weeks for testing and tinkering before the competition in May. 

While Johnson is the chief engineer for the club, there are also five subsections of engineers, each corresponding to the car’s build process. 

The five subsystems are chassis, aerodynamics, suspension, powertrain, and electrical.

IMG 6183 300x225 - Stepping into Husker Motorsports’ garage
Last years car (back) versus this years chassis (front)

Joey Clayton, the chassis lead, is in charge of  the design and simulation of the overall frame based upon other subsystem requirements. Clayton’s responsibilities involve planning and designing the frame model in 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software called Solidworks.

This then leads into developing and assembling the manufacturing method for the frame, and testing the rigidity of the frame physically through a series of tests and virtually through simulations.

The aerodynamics team deals mostly with running simulations to produce the ideal downforce, which allows the car to go quicker around a track. They are constantly running simulations with different inputs– often redoing designs and changing things like the front or rear wing of the car.

 The suspension mechanics work on making sure nothing on the road stands in the way of smooth performance.

Powertrain is focused solely on the engine and tinkering with their turbocharge to increase the power of the engine.

IMG 6187 300x225 - Stepping into Husker Motorsports’ garage
Electrical control unit for this year’s car

And the final subsystem, electrical, run by senior Grace Larsen, is the design and implementation of all the electrical components on the car. Larsen is also in charge of programming the fully custom dash along with programming and calibrating sensors with the control unit (ECU). 

Each subsystem constantly runs simulations with different calculations in order to find the best possible outcome. 

“We always find little things that can change using the simulations,” Johnson said.

He explained that most of the changes that are inputted into the simulation are from an estimated guess. The calculations will start broad, and then narrow as more simulations are run, to eventually find the peak performance. 

With most of the build completed, the 400-pound car sits at 8 feet long and 4 feet wide.

The engine is pulled from a 600cc sport bike with the addition of a turbocharge. 

The month of April has been dedicated to constant testing on the engineers’ part, making sure the car meets all criteria and achieves peak performance. 

Achieving good results in the competition is essential to the team. The higher a team places, the more recognition it gets, which ultimately brings in more sponsorship money for the next year. 

The recognition from top sponsors and companies is one of the advantageous parts of joining Husker Motorsports. 

For Clayton, his initial love for cars and motorcycles got his foot in the door, but the experience and the opportunities is what made him stay. 

“Being a core member of the club allows you to get a lot more hands on experience than anything you could learn in a classroom,” Clayton said.  “And I think it helped me develop as an engineer a lot faster.”

Being involved in Husker Motorsports helped Clayton secure a design engineer position that he will pursue immediately after the competition in May. 

Most of the Husker Motorsports members joined the team to gain hands-on engineering experience to coincide with what they learned in classes. 

“I probably learned like half of what I know from just being in this club,” Johnson said. “When I’m in a group in one of my classes and they propose a design, it’s not like I’m trying to bash them, but I’ve tried that already being a part of the club, and I’m like, it’s not gonna work.”

The team was also the reason Johnson was able to secure his internship last summer. 

Members have gone on to work at companies like Tesla, SpaceX, and NASCAR. Johnson estimates that the team has about a 98% job placement rate. 

Many of these top companies keep their eye on the Formula SAE competition, so top results are ideal. 

The team will consistently work on perfecting the car until the competition date in May. 

With the competition, sponsorships possibilities, and potential job offers lurking closer every day the team is eager to see their car come to life.