Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, home to Coca-Cola, Chick-fil-A and Whale sharks in the aquarium, Andrea Preacher knew that motorsports was not considered a common hobby, let alone career, especially as a female. She had always known about racing through IMSA (The International Motor Sports Association) and Formula 1, and that interest followed her into her first few years as a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
When it was time for Andrea to seek out internship programmes in her second year, there wasn’t a programme that gave her the same sense of excitement that she got to experience racing. Through networking, and some luck, she got her first internship as a technical operations intern at HWA (Hans-Werner Aufrecht) with the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E team. This was her first chance to see how a race team operates, from the designers and performance engineers to the drivers, and she got to experience first hand the well-oiled machine required to be a successful race team. She became friends with a coworker who was quick to offer advice, as she approached her final few years of university. He, like Andrea, was from a place where motorsport was not a typical career path and when she asked how he managed to break into European motorsports he mentioned his master’s from Cranfield.
Immediately she had an itch to find a Motorsport MSc, something she didn’t know existed, so that she too could put herself in the best position to be a motorsport engineer.
The journey to Cranfield
Andrea returned to the US from her internship and focused on completing her degree all while researching different universities across the UK and Europe that offered a Master’s in motorsport engineering. Cranfield kept coming out top with its impressive list of lecturers, smaller cohort size, group design and individual research projects, and expansive network of alumni. It was the combination of those characteristics and the opportunity to live and work abroad that led Andrea to choose Cranfield.
Coming from a different country, Andrea felt initially intimidated to start the course as she was unfamiliar with the UK standards of marks, or the Cranfield standards. She was grateful for Georgia Tech, the University where she completed her undergraduate degree, as it prepared her to produce quality work despite the quantity assigned by the various lecturers.
After the initial fear subsided, she found herself enjoying the course and the format that Cranfield follows. She enjoyed getting to know all the lecturers and appreciated that the motorsport teaching staff worked together to connect the material as they moved from one module to another.
The group design project was a significant highlight for Andrea. Her team connected with a natural fibre composite manufacturer and through this were able to do physical testing of their product so they could apply it to their project. The experience of working with this company to get material and then making their own test samples is something she will not soon forget.
Another highlight was the camaraderie within the cohort. Always being able to count on people to be studying or problem-solving together somewhere on campus, so they were never alone when working on coursework. During the group design project period the library was full with students across many different courses and, in the evening, everyone would migrate to the CSA to celebrate the highs and lows. The motorsport course even began watching the Formula 1 races together in the CSA, with other courses invited, and it always made for a fun time. Andrea would also be remiss if she didn’t mention her group design group (KING Engineering) winning the AVEC award for best overall performance in the Advanced Motorsport MSc group design project—it was amazing to see all their hard work pay off in front of industry professionals.
Social aspects of studying at Cranfield
Andrea’s typical day on campus would start with movement, either a walk around campus or the campus gym. On the first day of class, she sat next to someone who would quickly become one of her best friends (Skanda Raman) and they would start the day in the gym before tackling their coursework. After a workout, a stop at the campus Co-op was required to pick up a snack for the morning. Usually, a group of friends from the motorsport and automotive cohorts would meet in the library or in the Vincent building and they would work on their course material for the morning. The second they knew Cranberries, or Reggie’s, was open they’d make a dash to get food. While she was working on the individual research project, she would make her way to the lab to check on her ongoing experiments after lunch.
If an experiment was complete, a new one would be set up and she would make her way back to Vincent to finish studying until dinner. Typically, the night would end with meeting friends for a pint and chat at the CSA. If they weren’t feeling like eating food on campus, an adventure to The Swan in Cranfield village was another option.
Andrea currently works as a Vehicle Systems Engineer at the NASCAR R&D Centre in North Carolina, USA. The role intrigued her because she has a love for and experience in mechanical design as well as with data engineering and she can develop both here. Her primary responsibility is the design and maintenance of the current NASCAR Cup car, meaning updating various aerodynamic parts and inspection tools used across the car.
On weekends when she travels to the track, she is tasked with supporting the officials during inspection and ensuring they have all the tools they need to do their jobs properly. Her experience in the motorsport world prior to Cranfield was enhanced by the course, helping her collaborative skills with teammates on various projects, a quality she has taken to her current role.
NASCAR racing is unique. A stock car that races 36 weeks of the year, with all the races happening back-to-back after the start of the season. Quick and efficient problem solving is required to be successful.
For as long as Andrea can remember, her goal was to work in motorsport, whether that be for a supplier or for a team directly. Now she is working in the industry in a role she has come to enjoy more than she thought possible. Andrea hopes to continue developing her modelling skills, while continuing to develop the future of both NASCAR and motorsports.
Talking about her future aspirations, Andrea mentioned:
“Motorsports moves faster than most people’s ‘five-year plans’ so I hope to see myself develop in this role before taking on a more senior position either in my current company or with a team directly. While my future aspirations are not as defined as when I was working on my Bachelor’s, I know I aspire to always be around a racetrack helping cars and drivers push the limits of technology.”
Andrea’s advice to anyone who might be considering studying in the UK within Motorsport:
“It is an industry built on relationships; yes, degrees and background are important, but it will only get you so far. More often than not, when you talk to someone working in industry, they got their start because someone was willing to take a chance on them and give them an opportunity. If you can get out to races in person, talk to any and everyone on the teams (hint: people love to talk about themselves and offer advice). The hardest part after meeting people, is staying in touch with them and keeping your relationship alive.”
As a female working as an engineer in the sport, Andrea is passionate about STEM outreach aimed at school-aged girls and laying the groundwork for them to be empowered young women wherever they land. Therefore, she supports the Girls on Track programme. She loves getting to be an example for younger girls – dreams are not as hard to reach as you might think!
Find out more about studying Advanced Motorsport MSc.