Hands-on education for student at Road Atlanta

Most companies have internship programs, but the racing industry is unique in its ability to really provide a hands-on education to students interested in a career in motorsports. The Claro/TracFone DeltaWing Racing Cars team has that opportunity this weekend, hosting a Lanier Tech student getting his first look at professional motorsports in this weekend’s TUDOR United SportsCar finale, the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta. 

Lavallee, left, Paul Taylor (Lead Mechanic) right

29-year-old Mark Lavallee decided to pursue a motorsports career after eight years in the army infantry. He graduated from the automotive mechanics program at the Universal Technical Institute in Orlando, then started the Motorsports Vehicle Technology Program at Lanier Technical College in nearby Oakwood, Ga. this fall. 

As part of the Intro to Motorsports class, Lavallee was assigned a project that required him to research a team, interviewing crew members and learning about a professional organization. The DeltaWing Racing Cars shop is only 20 minutes from Lanier Tech so Lavallee contacted the team. He spent a day in the race shop last month, learning about the team’s inner workings alongside lead mechanic Paul Taylor. 

“We talked about how the team worked, the kind of organization it was and a lot about the car,” said Lavallee. “Paul explained how the industry works, how the team functions in the shop and on a race weekend. It was great to be able to see how the team works up-close. 

“This program is very well know all over the country,” continued Lavallee. “There are graduates of this program working for most major teams on the East Coast and really, all over the country.” 

Lavallee works with Tom Keene

The best way to learn is by doing, so Lavallee was invited to join the team for the Petit Le Mans weekend, working with truck driver/tire mechanic Tom Keene. Seeing a race weekend from the inside has been an eye-opening experience. 

“I’m helping Tom with the tires, getting them set up when they come off the car and going down the Continental Tire truck to get new ones. I spent a lot of time with the team, learning how the race weekends go. It’s fun – I’ve definitely learned a lot just seeing how hard everyone works.” 

Lavallee knew the history of the DeltaWing Coupe before the weekend, but watching the team deal with the challenges of a race weekend has impressed the Lanier student. 

Lavallee and gearbox technician Trey Whitworth

“I knew about the car and was a fan of the series, and I knew that it was all built in-house, that it’s not a pre-made car. But when you see things like we dealt with yesterday, when we needed to improve the windshield wiper and the overall visibility, that’s something unique to this car, because it’s not a production-based car. There are more issues you deal with and have to overcome as a team, since they make all their own parts. That’s something that makes this team even more interesting, the team’s capability to make and fabricate parts for the car.” 

Continuing the “hands-on” experience, Lanier Tech instructor Christian Tetzlaff is racing in the Mazda MX-5 Cup this weekend, with Lanier students as his mechanics. If he wasn’t with DeltaWing, Lavallee would be involved in that effort. 

“All the students are learning as they go. Christian races half seasons and has the students come out and help. It’s a great way to get experience on a car and at a race weekend. But I’m glad to be with the DeltaWing team this weekend. I’ve been to Sebring a couple of times but this is a completely different perspective. Working on the inside is such a great experience.”

 The 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season comes to a close at Road Atlanta. The historic road course once again hosts the endurance classic, Petit Le Mans – race four of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup - on October 1-3. Qualifying will be live on IMSA.com at 3:20 p.m. Friday, with Saturday’s race coverage split between FOX Sports 2 and IMSA.com. A three-hour recap show will air on FOX Sports 1 on Sunday, October 4 at 1:30 p.m. (all times Eastern).