Jacob Wright was still in middle school when he decided that he was destined to attend CSUN — all thanks to Matador Motorsports.
As a middle school student, at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, Wright first laid eyes on a CSUN student-designed race car, an annual senior design project that gives CSUN engineering students the opportunity to “design, build, test and race a Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) racing vehicle.” A decade later, Wright is the proud senior project manager of the Matador Motorsports team.
“I’ve lived like down the street from [campus] for my whole life,” said Wright, a member of the Class of 2023. “Once I learned about Formula SAE being here, I was like, ‘Oh dude, I have to go to a school with FSAE, and CSUN’s right there. Let’s do it.'”
This week, all of the team’s hard work comes to fruition at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. In Formula SAE‘s vaunted North American competition, CSUN will compete against nearly 120 other universities, May 17-20. Twelve students traveled to the competition, hauling their race car across the country in a trailer. Eight of them, including Wright, will miss their College of Engineering and Computer Science commencement ceremony to take part in the competition — a decision each made on their own.
“There’s some people that are kind of bummed about missing graduation, but I know for me at least, I came to college just to do Formula SAE,” Wright said. “So, it’s kind of a tough thing to realize. But once you get over that [missing graduation], you’re like, ‘Okay, let’s go to competition. Let’s do it.’ Every single alumni that we tell that we’re missing graduation, they’re like, ‘Don’t worry about it. Competition is way better.’”
The team has been working on their car, “Shaqira,” since summer 2022. In a matter of months, they planned, designed, manufactured and tested their car. The students also must stick to a budget of about $50,000. According to Wright, in recent weeks, team members worked on the car “24/7” to complete the project before departure for Michigan.
Matador Motorsports was established at CSUN in 1988. Students work in teams during the academic year to design, then build the race car. In his role as the senior project manager, Wright spends a lot of his time in the Haas Laboratory at Jacaranda Hall, overseeing all the teams who work on the car. That includes seven sub-teams of about four students each — including graduate and undergraduate students — dedicated to working on a particular part of the car: controls, engine, drivetrain, chassis, engine, suspension and management. The management team is in charge of creating the general idea of what the car should look like, and the team’s goals for the semester.
Wright ensures that the team’s overall workflow is efficient and that all work is completed correctly. He collaborates closely with the project’s faculty advisor, Stewart Prince, and shares information he receives from Prince with team leaders.
“If there’s any glaring red-flag design issue, I have to raise the question: ‘Hey, what are we doing here? Is this really the best way that we can do this?’” Wright said. “I have to make sure that things are gelling correctly [and that] it’s not going to get in the way of other things.”
The process for choosing the senior project manager can vary, from overall team votes to alumni volunteer members making the selection. Based on his years volunteering with the team, Wright stepped up to take this position and Prince accepted this decision.
“I think he’s done a pretty good job. I still see him as that kid in sixth grade, and he still is to this day. He still has that level of enthusiasm of a young kid, and I certainly appreciate that,” said Prince, who has served as Matador Motorsports advisor since 1991.
After the competition, Wright wants to work in the automotive industry. He’d like to follow in the footsteps of former Matador Motorsports project manager, Luiz Oliveira ’14 (Mechanical Engineering) — a race engineer at Honda Performance Development. Oliveira was there at that fateful 2013 L.A. Auto Show.
“[Oliveira] showed me that it [is] possible to go from CSUN to Formula One. I would love to do that,” Wright said. “That’s the dream — to eventually end up in Formula One. But you know, I’d love to end up in racing somewhere.”
This month, he hopes CSUN will place in the top 15 or 20 at the competition, Wright said, and he’d like to expand the roles within Matador Motorsports to include students from other departments and majors. For example, he’d like to see graphic design students help out with designing team merchandise, and journalism students assist with the Matador Motorsports newsletter and social media, he added.
“This isn’t just for engineers. We could have a marketing team, we could have a business team. You could find an avenue from every single major to help with this project,” Wright said.