From group stretches to “Hitting Roman,” MIT Motorsports traditions live on

Monica and Kevin Chan at the Formula SAE Electric Competition in Michigan Photo courtesy of MIT Motorsports.

While siblings Kevin Chan ’17 and rising senior Monica Chan may be seven years apart in age, as Monica Chan puts it, “we’re eight grades apart, so, like, eight life-years apart.”

Despite this age gap — Kevin left for college when Monica was in fifth grade — the siblings share remarkably similar experiences and interests. Both led subteams on the MIT Motorsports team, albeit eight years apart. Kevin was the electrical systems lead from 2015 to 2017, and Monica is the current software lead.

Founded in 2001 by Rich James ’04, SM ’06 and Nick Gidwani ’04, and supported by the Edgerton Center, MIT Motorsports designs and builds a high-caliber Formula SAE car to race in yearly competitions. Over the past 23 years, MIT Motorsports has built 19 cars, won 10 trophies, and has had hundreds of team members. Alumni are die-hard fans and established an endowed fund for their 20th anniversary to ensure the team’s longevity. In 2017, Kevin’s team won Second Place Overall at the Formula SAE Electric competition in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Kevin was one of two electrical engineering students on the team, and today Monica oversees a subteam of 10 students. The subteam expansion has facilitated the development of a custom telemetry system. “You can view live data coming off of the car that’s transmitted through radio, and we have a custom dashboard that we created with a custom PCB that transmits all that data now,” Monica says. 

“It’s so funny to hear Monica talking about this, because when I was on the team, our UI [user interface] for the driver and everything was so simple. It was just a little, single-line display that showed the max cell temperature and minimum cell voltage,” Kevin chuckles. “And then we literally had a sticky note on the dashboard that was like, do not go above this temperature. Do not go below this voltage.”

While at MIT, Kevin kept up with his sister weekly, updating her on everything happening at Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE). “A big piece of advice Kevin gave me when I was a junior in high school was that you’re never too young to do something amazing,” Monica says. “He told me back then that ‘you’re not going to be much smarter two years from now than you are now.’ That piece of advice helped me get through high school and pushed me to do my best to do the hard and difficult things because indeed, it’s more about the personal qualities you have that push you to do the hard projects. Knowledge can always be acquired, but the drive is the harder part.”

A diverse team of college students gather around a red and white racecar with a high rear spoiler. In the foreground, a silver cup sits on the asphalt.
The MIT Motorsports team is all smiles with their Second Place Overall Spirit of Excellence Award silver trophy at the Formula SAE Electric competition in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo courtesy of MIT Motorsports.

Traditions are part of the fabric of the team culture. Their team stretch at the end of every meeting is an enduring tradition. “Everyone just extends their arms out while standing up and then does a squat. Then, they clap. This is just a thing that has been done on the team since before I was on the team. They said that the origin of it was the stretch that Japanese autoworkers do at the beginning of the day to stretch out their jumpsuits in the factory and make the knees a little bit more flexible. And it’s just fascinating, because this stretch is now almost 20 years old on the team,” Kevin says.

“Hitting Roman,” the day the car first rolls, is an important milestone. “When I was on the team, we were convinced that saying that the car was going to run was bad luck,” Kevin says. “We were trying to come up with a new term to replace the term ‘running car’ because we thought that saying the words ‘running car’ would make it so that the car never ran. So instead of calling it a running car, we called it ‘Roman Chariot.’” The name stuck, and Monica’s team hit Roman in April.

For Kevin, the spirit of Motorsports remains ever-present, as he shares his home with four Motorsports alums and collaborates with three Motorsports alums at Tesla, where he serves as a staff energy systems design/architecture engineer.

“FSAE and the Edgerton Center played a huge role in jump starting my career and my internships. I think there’s not many places where you can get both the breadth and the depth of the design process,” Kevin says.

For Monica, “Race car puts many things in perspective where you implement a lot of the things that you learn in class into a physical project. Sometimes I learn things through race car before I learn them in class. And then when I go back to class, it gives me a better physical intuition for how something works because I have experience implementing it.”

The team recently returned from the Formula Hybrid competition in Loudon, New Hampshire, where they finished first in design, first in scrutineering [mandatory technical, safety, and administrative checks], second in acceleration, third in the racing challenge, fourth in project management, and fifth overall. Edgerton Center Technical Instructor Pat McAtamney reports, “I’ve never seen a team complete a brakes test in one try.”

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