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Saturday, October 23, 2021

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The Aztec Racing Team in Lincoln, Nebraska this past summer.

Aztecs in the Fast Lane

Members of the Aztec Racing Team are on a fast track to success.
By Hallie Jacobs, video by Jeneene Chatowsky

When Rida Alvi first set foot on the San Diego State University campus, she knew right away she wanted to get her hands dirty.

The senior San Diego native’s longtime passion for cars led her to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, and her knowledge of engines and electrical systems perfectly aligned with the goals of a small, but mighty student-run organization — the Aztec Racing Team.

“I learned about the team at my orientation and was instantly hooked,” Alvi said. “I knew that being on the team would help take what I learned in the classroom and translate it into real-world application.”

The team of 45 Aztecs, led by Alvi as president, features students with diverse educational backgrounds — ranging from engineering to marketing. They are challenged to design, manufacture and market a small, open-wheel racecar. At the end of the year, the racecars are put to the test at the annual Society of Automotive Engineers Formula Series race in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Student-led success

The Aztec Racing Team takes a different approach than other collegiate teams.

While the Society of Automotive Engineers sets competition standards with which teams need to comply, there are no rules for outsourcing car construction. Teams are allowed to solicit the help of engineering firms and construction companies to build the cars, as long as students complete the design.

The Aztec team, however, designs and manufactures the car without the help of professors or professional engineering entities.

“If we outsourced our production, what would be the point?” said Matthew Dulog, former president of the team. “It might help us in the competition, but we wouldn’t learn anything. Plus, we have a lot of fun building it as a team, and we’re a lot more proud of the finished product.”

Pedal to the metal

Each year the team spends around $15,000 renovating, redesigning and retrofitting new-and-improved advancements to the existing racecar body. Most of the funds come from donors and gifts from local engineering firms. The students cover the difference.

“Some of the teams we compete with have around $100,000 to spend on their cars,” Dulog said. “We don’t have nearly that amount, but we’re still competitive. Even though it would be great to work with more money, it’s gratifying knowing we’re doing a lot with a little.”

Despite the challenge of a small budget, the team manages to make it work.

“We’re given raw materials to work with, with no user manual, and yet we still find a way to bring everything together,” Dulog said. “We have a really intelligent team to work with so that definitely helps.”

Fast track to careers

Getting involved with the racing team has proven to be beneficial post-graduation.

SDSU racing team alumni can be found working for prestigious engineering firms across the nation, including Microsoft, Qualcomm and NASA.

Amanda Willis graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in May and immediately accepted a position with Solar Turbines as a field service engineer. She attributes her success post-graduation to her experiences with the team.

“I didn’t get involved with the team until my senior year but once I joined, I got really involved,” she said. “My task this last year was building the chassis — the base frame of the racecar. Everything on the car has to go inside the chassis, so it was a challenge.”

Although Willis graduated, she wasn't ready to cut her ties with the team yet.

“I couldn’t wait to get our car on the track and see it passing the other teams.”

The road to Lincoln

The Aztec Racing team took its hard work to Lincoln at the end of June to put the car to the test. 

The culmination of a year's worth of blood, sweat and grease competed against more than 100 other collegiate teams, including Arizona State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Dartmouth. 

The team successfully completed all technical events and was cleared to race. The challenge is based on four events: acceleration, skid pad, autocross and endurance.

"In terms of performance, we were middle of the road in all race events, except for endurance, which we could not finish due to fuel delivery issues," Alvi said.

Despite not bringing home the first place trophy, Alvi is confident that the team's efforts in Lincoln paved the road for an even more successful 2015 race.

"We have a great team this year," she said. "I can't wait to see how everyone's talents come together to form an even better racecar."

To get involved with the Aztec Racing Team, contact Alvi via e-mail or visit the team's website.