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Drift Club founder Steven Hernandez, left, plans the engine installation with club member and freshman mechanical engineering student James Lowe.  Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Racing Sideways

Engineering Student Finds Others to Share a Drifting Dream

October 21, 2008

By Russ Hudson

A powerful race car approaches a corner at high speed. The corner draws closer, but the car doesn’t slow. Instead, the driver suddenly works the hand brake, the brake pedal, the accelerator and the steering wheel in a choreographed sequence, with no room for error in the timing.

The smoking rear wheels slide across the pavement while the front wheels negotiate the turn, the entire car sliding several feet sideways as it makes the corner. Think “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” the 2006 action movie about a type of racing called “drifting.”

Steve Hernandez, a former Ford Motor Co. mechanic, had envisioned building just such a car and he’s doing it. He couldn’t do it all himself, so he found a way to get help. The 31-year-old senior mechanical engineering student had founded the Drift Club with 40 like minded students from all disciplines of engineering and they induced a campus information technology administrator to donate a car.

The car now resides in the College of Engineering and Computer Science complex and club members swarm over it every week. Stripped, the 1993 Nissan 240SX is without an engine or much of anything else that it carried when it came from the factory. It will be rebuilt with high-performance parts to become a drift car, including heavy-duty cross-drilled and slotted performance brakes, stronger suspension, turbocharged engine, five-speed transmission, rear tires soft enough to slide but sturdy enough to hold together and front tires that will grip the road. Anything nonessential for performance or safety comes off to cut weight.

Hernandez takes the lead, lending his considerable automotive experience, making him, in effect, another teacher. He also is working with club members to come up with ways to finance the parts … another learning experience.

 “The idea is for us to use what we’re learning in our classes. Things like materials, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer … but applying it in real life. Yes, it’s my project, but it’s a learning experience for all of us.”

The car is his senior project and must be fully functional by next May … or he won’t graduate.

“But this project is not for illegal street racing and I’m not encouraging that,” Hernandez is quick to add. “It’s to learn. And it’s to have fun.”

Putting their moral support, expertise and encouragement behind the project are faculty members Peter W. Othmer and Jesa H. Kreiner, both professors of mechanical engineering.

“The drift team has proven that our students have a phenomenal amount of energy, drive and ability to create a project and do good engineering work. The club is a collection of strong-minded individuals who built a good team,” Kreiner said.

“They are having a lot of fun with the project,” he added. “A real blast, which makes me very happy. It is a joy to have good and motivated students in the design projects classes, and Steve is a real dynamo and a very good leader of the team.”

Calvin Wan, a professional drift racer, helps club members with advice, Hernandez said. Hernandez, a resident of Orange, said he doesn’t know if Wan will drive the car. It would be good to have Wan behind the wheel, he said, but who drives it is secondary. “It just has to run for me to graduate, but it has to serve its main purpose by drifting for me to say it’s working.”


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