Director of Motorsports at Purdue
Danny White's deep connections to the motorsports industry — in Indiana and elsewhere — help him give Purdue students a head start on careers in that field.
White, director of motorsports at Purdue and an Indianapolis native, has a long resume in motorsports that includes 20 years working in Champ Car, the governing body later known as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), and IndyCar. Now, he is heavily involved in Purdue's Grand Prix races, teaches Purdue students about motorsports and its history in Indiana, and helps place talented students in IndyCar-related internships that often lead to permanent jobs.
What is your background in motorsports?
I began by training as a member of the fire crew at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One day, I was sitting on the pit wall when car owner Dick Simon told me about a mechanical problem that none of his engineers could figure out. When I identified the problem and fixed it for him, he asked me to show him one of my paycheck stubs. He offered to pay me $10,000 more than whatever I was making if I would come work for him, and I did.
Before coming to Purdue, I held several jobs in CART and in IndyCar, including as a team owner in the Indy Pro Series, now called Indy Lights, with Taylor Fletcher as my driver. I've been here at Purdue now for four years.
What does your job at Purdue entail?
Motorsports at Purdue encompasses a variety of activities, including the Purdue Grand Prix, the Purdue Electronic Vehicle Grand Prix and the Purdue Collegiate evGrand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I'm also involved in a class about electronic go-karts that's part of the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) programs.
In addition to those activities, I teach a course each fall called Introduction to Motorsports. It doesn't offer any University credit, but if students want an internship in the motorsports industry, they need to take it. During the class, students work on projects for various IndyCar teams — projects include testing shocks, analyzing debris in oil filters and things like that.
How do you help students get internships in the motorsports industry?
The students who show special skills and a passion for the sport in my introduction class are the students I help place in internships. I place three to four students each year, and those students come from all disciplines — there have been engineering, technology, and liberal arts students who've gotten internships in motorsports.
Our students intern for some of the largest companies involved in IndyCar. We've placed students in internships at Andretti Autosport, Bryan Herta Autosport, Dallara Automobili U.S., Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jeffrey Mark Motorsport, Pratt & Miller Engineering and USAC Racing. Of those students who have landed internships, all but one have gone on to work full time in the industry after graduation.
What advantage does a Purdue degree offer students who want to enter the motorsports industry?
Because Purdue's motorsport academics are offered in addition to students' degree programs, there's a great deal of versatility available to students after they graduate. We offer the training and the experience necessary to land a job in the industry, but IndyCar is still a very exclusive, demanding career. For those who land motorsports jobs, if later on they decide they want to start a family and don't want to travel anymore — as is required of most folks who work for IndyCar companies — they still have their world-class Purdue degree. So, if an aerospace engineering graduate decides they no longer want to work in Indycar, they're still highly qualified for a job as an aerospace engineer.
What other programs are you working on right now?
Motorsports at Purdue has partnered with two schools near Indianapolis on a program called M-STEM, which aims to get sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders interested in science, technology, engineering and math through teaching them about motorsports. Next spring, we'll begin the program with a three- to four-week curriculum followed by a field trip to the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway, where the students will get to see simulators and demonstrations related to the science behind motorsports.
We anticipate this program will be very positive for Purdue and for the state of Indiana as a whole. For the state, it's a way to get and keep kids interested in a sport that's synonymous with Indiana — we're recognized all over the world as the home of IndyCar racing. For Purdue, the program will help pique the interest of STEM students who we hope might one day attend the University. It also helps assure the long-term sustainability of an industry that's responsible for a large chunk of the state's economy. It's a win-win for everyone.