Students, Take Your Dream Shot — The Genius Garage

It’s your junior year of college and you just had a great weekend with your car club friends at the autocross. The first flight of the radio-controlled airplane you built over the winter went well after a few tweaks to the center of gravity. Back at the apartment your lab assignment notes are pestering you to finish them. Your head isn’t in the game, so you start thinking about the future.

The brightest young people still need a chance to shine.

That Co-Op internship you worked at last summer seems to be your only current job possibility, but most of the time you spent there was trying to look busy. It was clear that no one in the business really had the time or cared to get you up to speed. The company culture was uninspiring and when you think about what you believe you are capable of doing, you wonder how you are going to get there. There has to be something out there, but where?

Hopping on the web you start looking at job search websites hoping to find a future. After looking for an hour you instead see a pattern. While your undergraduate degree, work ethic, and acumen qualify you for a number of solid careers, every posting requires at least 3-5 years of work experience. Not finding any career launch points and realizing you don’t know how to mix enough drinks to be a good bartender, you close your laptop with a heavy sigh.

The thoughts start rolling. “I wonder what it takes to get a job working on a Formula 1 car? How hard is it to get a job at Tesla or Space X? How do I get noticed to work for a supercar company? Wouldn’t it be cool to work on hydrogen fuel cells? What do I have to do to get hired by a big racing team? Maybe I’ll meet someone who wants to start a business with me…”

You are not alone! There are literally hundreds of thousands of brilliant students around the world in engineering, technology, design, art, and business majors on the same journey. They too stumble upon this same canyon with no bridge in sight.

2018 Genius Garage Racing Program

While I am writing this line, I am also glancing at my watch. In two hours, I have to be working with college students who have found their bridge to the future at the Genius Garage Racing, Aerospace, and Design Programs. I know this first hand, because I’ve spent the last two days speaking with (and presenting student resumes to) industry leaders including an exotic car company and a highly successful motorsports team.

2018 Genius Garage Automotive Design Studio

Currently, the Racing Team students are returning to work from podium finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Mid-Ohio. The Aerospace Team is finishing their scratch-built Sopwith Camel fighter plane replica. They will display in front of 700,000 spectators at AirVenture in 3 weeks. Our Automotive Design student is finishing his supercar model and renderings for an art exposition. Later, he will be working on a 100 mpg, recyclable, concept prototype car. Just another day for these student’s dream shot.

2018 Genius Garage Aerospace Program

This place actually exists, and it is quickly growing in Mid-West America. Now in its 5th year, Genius Garage is a 501(c)3 non-profit public educational charity. The Genius Garage programs were created for one purpose only — bridge the gap from academia to industry — and to give driven young people their dream shot which doesn’t exist elsewhere.

I know this because I am the founder of the Genius Garage. I too was a struggling college student once. Not struggling with classes, but struggling to find a way. It was nearly impossible to find a worthwhile mentor or professional guidance. Even more so, it was difficult to find an opportunity to grow or get any professional shot. This, in spite of my University’s incredible resources and regardless of how driven any particular individual was. It was a dehumanizing and horrible experience indeed.

Students needed an opportunity and I knew it was time to make something happen.

Fast forward a decade. I had been spending time mentoring college students with engineering and fabrication relating to electric racing motorcycles. I had also created and ran public events for the past 6 years with all proceeds going to charities ranging from historic preservation to a children’s hospital. Professionally, I was a fabricator, restorer, and involved in racing car preparation.

One day when I looked around my shop, I had a realization. In the past 10 years, I fought to carve a path in the world after an unsatisfying collegiate experience. I had access to an engineering facility, incredible racing vehicles, and had a contact book full of incredible people ranging from CEO’s to racing drivers, and from engineers to fighter pilots. Having worked with college students, I know how much opportunities to learn and gain experience means to them. I also know the people with whom I had contact would be incredible mentors to young men and women looking to start their careers.

Working with an engineering student on a transaxle setup.

The Genius Garage concept was born! I would contact the local universities and colleges so that their students could apply to form their own professional-level racing team. I decided to spend the time I used in the past creating charity events, to instead mentor college students in a program set up to make them “too good to ignore.”

There would be no cost to the students in this educational internship. They would be chosen by what is in their heads and in their hearts alone, regardless of demographics. When they were finished, I would personally go to bat recommending them when they are trying to land a job.

Genius Garage students get their dream shot and win milk for their cookies at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in their spare time!

The most driven students would get an opportunity like nowhere else on the planet. To do something big in the real world and would be connected with the best professionals to act as mentors. People who would share their life wisdom and connect the students to their future careers. The students would get the chance I never had, and it would be big!

Student and girlfriend poses with his team’s nearly completed Sopwith Camel.

That was 6 years ago now. The racing program has been so successful, we have added our Aerospace Program and Automotive Design Program for 2018. The new programs are similar to the Racing Program formula but in different industries. All are housed in the same location and sometimes students from one program help those in another.

Cross discipline learning happens every day at Genius Garage.

Engineers learn art and design, and artists finally learn technical logistics and science. Aerospace students learn race-car aerodynamics and mechanics. Race-car engineers learn aerospace fabrication and engineering. Genius Garage has become the penultimate STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) through its own natural evolution. The students have to think business and PR too.

A student preparing the racing exhaust system.

These young men and women come from various majors ranging from engineering to art, and business. They complement their theoretical educational experience with the best-possible practical growth experience for their careers. They have gained their life confidence and learned valuable skills like fabrication, but most importantly they have learned “how to think.” That’s right. School teaches you information, but not “how to think.”

Process thinking, thinking as a team member, thinking as a leader, thinking as a contributor, thinking globally, thinking historically, projecting future events, prioritization, resource management, thinking about community as much as an individual. These are the unspoken attributes of true leaders. Genius Garage gifts its students with experiences available nowhere else in the world, but its power is in learning “how to think.” This cannot be faked, it can only be done in a very real environment with genuine leadership.

Mentors who care about young people is a strong component of Genius Garage.

We don’t do grades. An “A” and 5 bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. Where is the motivation in that? Like the real world, our student’s motivation comes from the desire to better themselves, taking pride in their work, coming together as a team, and winning. If a young person needs some help finding their way, there are mentors who care about them and can be a guide. People who have been successful themselves.

Work speaks for itself and that is the whole point. In Genius Garage, students have actually created something, learned to work with different people, and rise to meet challenges that were an impossibility a short time before. This is what employers need to know the most. “Will this candidate actually do something? Or are they risk and work-averse?”

Genius Garage students are excited after final preparation of their race car.

We have a writing assignment created to open the students to higher-level thinking. Forget the lowest common denominator of the academic “report paper.” Metaphorically speaking — can students watch the chess game, deduce the strategy of the players, predict future moves before they happen, and finally offer advice? Our paper helps them realize they can.

Reward experiences for exemplary students have included riding at speed during a track day; a trip to Germany to crew a racing car at the Nürburgring Nordschleife; the opportunity to drive and display a priceless pre-war classic car at the Concours of America; flying in open-cockpit biplanes from a grass airfield; and even flying on a WW2 B-17 Bomber. Our students are rewarded, learn history, are inspired, and find a new appreciation in life. You can’t get that with a letter grade.

Genius Garage's teaching style includes reward experiences for exemplary work by the students.

Our students go on field trips, too. Places such as Pratt and Miller, NASA Plum Brook Station, The National Museum of the United States Air Force, private car collections, or the Liberty Aviation Museum. At each one of these places, the students are led around by the people who know them best — a NASA facility director, career military pilots, a motorsports engineer and designer, and a quantum communications engineer. Sometimes these incredible people visit Genius Garage to meet the students — even flying into the local airport in a private plane. Ready to be inspired?

Student field trips to places like NASA and Pratt and Miller. Need more titanium than a LeMans car? Try an SR-71!

Why racing? Racing and race cars are exciting, but it is also the perfect environment for young people to grow. A racing team is just that — a team. Engineering a specialized machine for competition in a stressful environment is at the core, but successful business thinking is also paramount.

Students getting tire temps in the pits at Indy during a qualifying session.

By racing in the real world rather than a school-run engineering project, students must perform. The world is watching and their reputation is on the line. Just as in real life! There are no second chances or curved grades here. You get one shot, make it count. As they say in racing: “when the green flag drops, the BS stops.” The upside, however, is that these students get all the attention at center stage. Everyone loves the underdog.

The Genius Garage student team on the podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A professional-level racing team is the perfect training ground and crucible for forging bright young people into the talent and leaders of tomorrow. It is also insanely fun to watch a car you built with your new friends blast by you at 170 mph, passing Bill Elliot in his NASCAR, while on the way to a podium finish at Indianapolis.

This, when most companies wouldn’t even let you sit in a race car of this level, let alone hire you. It is also very satisfying to go to a career fair or interview and actually gain the interest of hiring managers. Get ready to hear “Nice resume. So tell me about Genius Garage”. It happens to all of our students.

Visiting past students who work at Tesla in Palo Alto, California.

Our students get noticed — their resumes go from the bottom of a giant pile to the top. The majority of our alumni are still in school because we accept students ranging from freshmen to post-grad students. Already though, we have alumni working at places such as Tesla HQ, DANA, Fiat Chrysler, Goodyear, and General Motors.

A past student, who is now working on Hydrogen fuel cells, is in charge of recruiting for his company. Just one hour ago, I sent another student’s resume directly to a motorsports and prototyping company that looks after multiple Formula 1 cars. This is how we measure success: Quality over quantity. You can read student testimonials here!

Let’s talk about racing cars! Genius Garage has only professional-level cars that require intense attention to detail, fine craftsmanship, and engineering acumen. That is the best way to learn and to teach. Remember how I said that we don’t curve grades? Our slowest car makes 700 hp and weighs 2,600 pounds. These cars require professional-level drivers, so it is exciting to have ones that can also act as life mentors to the students as part of the team.

Genius Garage racing car and students at an automotive event.

Genius Garage has a 1988 tube-frame IMSA GTO Corvette, a 1996 WSC open-cockpit prototype, and a 1997 Reynard Champ Car (Indy Car at the sanctioning body split). Each one of these vehicles represents a high point in racing for their respective series as well as a different part of the curriculum.

Genius Garage students with their 1997 Reynard Champ Car.

The Reynard comes from the fastest time period in American open-wheel racing history. A time when drivers were having physical difficulties with G-forces on high-speed ovals. It is loaded with about a zillion sensors and Motec computer systems. It has mil-spec wiring and makes more than enough downforce to drive inverted on a ceiling.

This car may as well be a fighter jet and translates directly to working on modern Indy and F1 cars. Did I mention it puts down 840-plus horsepower at the wheels? Teamwork must be precise with this baby and employers know this.

Genius Garage WSC prototype racing car

Our WSC prototype car comes from the mid-‘90s as well and is a 2,000-pound car with 680 hp. It was created by a privateer effort and utilizes an Indy Car transaxle and rear suspension. The power comes from a nasty dry-sump Chevrolet V8 with individual throttle bodies. This car is the proverbial blank canvas and a perfect test vehicle for young engineer’s ideas on aerodynamics, systems, and mechanical engineering.

IMSA GTO Corvette

The tube-frame IMSA Corvette (Corvette meaning it looks like one — only the tail lights actually are from a Corvette).  This ground-pounding yellow monster is one sweet hammer! This is a fan favorite and has won many races for our student’s efforts. 9,000 rpm from a very high-compression Chevrolet derived racing engine gets the blood pumping!

The IMSA Corvette is also the entry-level point of the Genius Garage program. Here, engineering students who have never even laid a hand on a screwdriver at school or even changed their oil, suddenly get immersed in pro-level practical experiences. This gains the attention of employers and builds confidence.

A student with the just-completed racing drivetrain.

We invite you to follow Genius Garage on Facebook and visit the website. The vision is to have public technology and science centers which have a transportation museum component. This way incredible things from the past exist to teach our best youth in the most dynamic way possible. Race cars, airplanes, technology, art, and design come together. This empowers our youth with a spark to become the leaders of our community, industry, and our nation. A shining jewel for any community and the racing world’s moment of self-actualization— The Genius Garage.

About the author

Casey Putsch

Casey is an accomplished competition and test driver. Having won countless races from karts to Can-Am cars, even a vintage AMA motorcycle championship.
Read My Articles

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