Pratt Senior Offers Crash Course in Racecars

Chris Morecroft

In the garage behind Hudson Hall on Friday afternoon, Nov. 4, Pratt senior Chris Morecroft offered a dozen students from Githens Middle School a crash course in racecars and a different perspective on college life.

“I always wanted to be a racecar driver,” Morecroft told the group. “At Duke, I’ve had the opportunity to take classroom learning and put it into practice.”

Morecroft, Pratt undergraduate and president of the Duke Formula SAE Racecar Team, is a regular stop for local school children taking part in a variety of community outreach programs around campus. So far, the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) senior from Georgetown, Ky., has spoken to three groups of kids, he said, and he will host four more in the next month.

The Githens Middle School group’s visit to Duke was part of the seventh annual Duke-Durham School Days program. Organized by Duke’s Office of Community Affairs, the program this year brought 31 groups of about 10 eighth-graders each from all over Durham to Duke, with the ultimate goal of enhancing their interest in pursuing education beyond high school.

“These are kids with no family members who have gone to college,” said David Stein, the educational partnership coordinator in the Community Affairs Office. “For them, it’s much harder to visualize going to college themselves. We know that having this experience on a campus makes it more likely that they will pursue a college education.”

“Chris is great,” Stein added. “He puts this technology right into the kids’ hands.”

The group, wearing Duke T-shirts emblazoned with “The Top Ten Ways to Get on Track for College,” stood around the blue racecar -- a mix of high-end components, plastic water bottles, aluminum foil and duct tape. They learned that the car was built from scratch by a team of undergraduates and took 31st in the Formula SAE Race against 140 other teams earlier in the year. They heard that the car can go from zero to sixty in 3 seconds, unlike any car in commercial production.

“But, do you have to memorize everything?” someone asked.

“No, you don’t have to memorize the parts,” Morecroft said. “It’s a club, not a class, besides memorizing doesn’t help you really learn how to put something together.”

Morecroft went on to explain how an engine works, how the throttle controls fuel intake and speed, how shocks and gears operate and how tires without treads, or “slicks,” can allow for faster sharp turns on dry pavement. But, perhaps even more importantly, he gave them a useful life lesson.

“You can’t design everything,” he said. “Someone already invented the wheel. But you can take what exists, make it better and learn. That’s the great thing about college or engineering school.”

And, with their 15 minutes up, the kids were off for another first-hand experience of college life: a dorm room.

As for Morecroft, after graduation in the spring, he is headed to the Navy, where he will start as an ensign. He expects to find out where he will be stationed next month.