Porsche Internship Natural Choice for Sandler
by Gabriel Chen, written in 2004
Nick Sandler was only eight years old when he watched his first NASCAR race live, but he was captivated by what he saw. He dreamed of racing in the Grand Prix and of coasting around the track towards the chequered flag. Growing up in North Carolina, Nick insisted that he wanted to be a Formula-One driver, but his pediatrician father was not too keen on the idea.
Fast forward to the present. Though Nick, a mechanical engineering senior, is unlikely to be the next Montoya, who incidentally is his favorite F-1 driver, his passion for race cars has found a new direction. Now, when Nick goes to races, he pays close attention to how a car's engine, drivetrain, cockpit, body, frame and suspension can be crucial to its overall performance.
"I was at the Grand Prix in Indianapolis last September," Nick said. "There's so much going on at a race. But, apart from watching cars speed past, I am also thinking about the technical aspect of things such as what makes this car go faster than the rest. I have always been fascinated by cars. When I was much younger, I collected toys like hot wheels and built my own miniature models."
Although Nick came to Duke planning to learn about car engines, he found himself taking theory-based classes about thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, compressible fluid flow and mechanical design. Looking back at his four years here, this mechanical engineering and material science sometimes wishes he had the chance to pursue a more vocational education.
"I've never taken a course on engines here," Nick said. "I do that on my own by reading books on the subject. However, though I know I'll see more of the stuff we learned in our curriculum actually applied to real-life situations, I understand that having a good grasp of theory is useful, as you can apply it to all kinds of situations. For example, aerodynamics can help you understand why race cars look the way they do, or why planes are designed in a certain way."
A knowledge of how different parts and systems of a car work and function has helped Nick excel in his role as the chief engineer of Duke Motorsports. The student-run group designs and builds open wheel, single seat racecars that will compete in the Formula SAE competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The FSAE Competition, an annual event held in Pontiac, Michigan, attracts over 150 teams from schools around the world, who attend and bring their vehicles to compete. Manufacturing the car, Nick said, takes several months. Upon completion, the car is tested thoroughly, so as to allow the team to find problems and address them before the competition in May.
"While I'm on the team that designs and builds it, I hope to be one of those who will drive it at the race," he quipped.
In the summer of 2003, Nick traveled to Weissach, Germany to intern at Porsche AG, where he worked under Dr. Michael Isay, one of the leaders of their body design department. W ith models like the 550 Spyder, the 911 Carrera, the 911 Turbo, and more recently, the Boxster, Porsche remains at the fore in automotive performance. Although Nick says he is unable to disclose the intrinsic details of what he did, he said that he had the chance to research, prepare, and evaluate concepts for the cooling systems of Porsche vehicles.
"Most of what I did had to do with conducting tests on their cars and on their competitor cars such as the Volvo," he said. "I tested their performance system and their individual parts to make sure they would perform better."
Nick said the highlight of his four-month stint was when he got to ride on the corporation's test-drive race track with a professional driver.
Despite his "cool experience" with Porsche, Nick said that nothing stood out quite like the cultural know-how he gleaned from staying and living in a foreign country.
"It was tough initially since I don't speak any German, though it wasn't a big deal at work since my colleagues speak English. But, where I stayed, everyone speaks German. I learned not to feel stupid going into places and pointing at stuff and making a fool of myself," he said.
While some of his peers have been accepted into graduate school or have been offered a job upon graduation, Nick says he has not had such luck yet. Or maybe Nick, the eldest child in a family of four, is still searching for that special something to do in his life.
"I'm looking for a job right now, preferably related to boats, cars, or planes. I could also take a summer off to travel around, and start work somewhere. Perhaps, I could work a few years, and then go to graduate school. I'm not sure," he said.
However, one thing Nick knows for certain is that he will miss his Duke experience a lot, especially the fond memories with the graduating class, which he has grown closer to over the years since there are only about 30 of them.
"I'll definitely miss the car team," he said.
Sandler graduated in May, 2004.