Think kids aren’t interested in hands-on vintage racing? You’re wrong! Historic, classic and vintage race cars have an almost divine status in the modern car culture. For so many, they seem out of reach as the totemistic idols of Baby Boomers and old timers who sit in folded chairs at car shows. This passion, with the younger set, seems to be increasingly replaced with smartphones. In Columbus, Ohio, one man of vision saw the deteriorating youth interest in automotive history along with the hands-on enjoyment of twisting wrenches and all the great and iconic machines that he grew up loving (and made a living restoring). He sought out a solution to ignite that passion.
At the ripe old age of 34, Casey Putsch is an anomaly in the this corner of the culture. Most of his peers are upwards of 25 years his senior. But that hasn’t stopped him from racing and winning in high-profile historic events—and doing it with an otherwise rag-tag team of Ohio State University interns.
Putsch’s program, called Genius Garage, was his brainchild three years ago. In that short period (across two seasons of racing) it has exposed sixteen college-age people to the wonders of vintage and historic cars, professional restoration and racing. The bulk of the team—comprised of engineering students, specializing in mechanical, electrical, aerospace and welding—literally built and prepare a full blown race car. In the case of 2015, a GT1/IMSA C3 Corvette. In 2014 it was a ex-Dario Franchitti Reynard Champ Car.
“My first race was in a 1957 Devin right after I graduated from college.” The son of a golf pro and a local Columbus television actress, Casey had a varied number of interests but loved design and mechanical engineering. Studying both at Ohio State University, he participated in the famed Formula SAE student competition, an experience that inspired him later to incorporate the youth aspect while raising the bar for competition in a professional environment.
Putsch also includes a business or communications student intern to gain experience in running the business and developing publicity campaigns. The group is a great team-building exercise, but most importantly, Putsch makes sure the crew gather life lessons too. Needless to say, the vintage racing hobby has numerous successful people (as it is one of the most expensive hobbies on the ground). He has a number of contacts through his involvement and invites these people from many walks of life to come and talk to the kids. It can be about investing in the stock market to stories of entrepreneurship or the benefits of networking. Either way, the students enjoy a very well rounded “hands-on” education.
Speakers and mentors for the students range from an Air Force pilot Jim Barfield; former Indy Car team engineer and machinist, Dave Gamble; PGA professional golfers, Chuck Putsch and Brian Smith; global company CEO, Mervin Dunn; former Chief of Staff to Sir Winston Churchill and Interpol Officer, Anneliese Nefos, amongst others. Casey chuckles, “Often times they accompany the team to our races so you never know who you will meet.”
The title of the program is Genius Garage, but there is very important road time too. As a race team must travel to exotic ports of call, the GG Team took their car and team on the road to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, The Mid Ohio Sportscar Course and the Pittsburgh Grand Prix.
Putsch is the driver, but the students get special treats along the way. Several of the students got to drive Formula Fords at Mid Ohio and participated in a test day and tour of the National Corvette Museum and race circuit.
One student, 18-year-old Clint Teece, won an all expenses paid trip to the Nurburgring in Germany to witness the 24 Hour race there and crew on a vintage Alfa Romeo participating in the Old Timer’s Grand Prix support race. This was the prize received for “best research paper” which Putsch describes: “Each year I lead the students to do the paper of their lives where they have to think globally. After a field trip to the National Museum of the Air Force and to Wright Patterson Air Force Base to learn about aviation history and engineering, the students did papers that ranged on subjects from the scope of the Manhattan Project to how media evolution through the 20th century changed the nature of governments, people, war and influence.”
Teece's paper centered around the B1 and B2 bomber as well as the entirety of the Cold War including national relations and domestic politics during the terms of three US presidents, including domestic and international economies. “I only feel bad that his reward was just a trip to Germany, as I think he deserves a trip to the White House,” said Putsch of the project.
Given that these kids get such rich experiences, it clearly translates into employment. Two of the graduates from the program and Ohio State found magnificent opportunities.
Shreyas Shivaprasad was responsible for the engine management system, computer, fuel injection system and ignition system on the Reynard Indy car in 2014. He was hired by Electric Vehicles International in Stockton, CA as a control systems engineer. As he described his duties to the employer, they reputedly offered him the job halfway through the interview. Kyle Norton is in the process of interviewing at SASCO, a North Carolina-based restoration, race prep and race equipment supplier. He was the Crew Chief and Engine guy on the 2014 team. Numerous others are currently interviewing and getting high end internships at Tesla and Chrysler.
Putsch is proud of Genius Garage and the work they have done: “Getting brilliant young minds and giving them the opportunity to learn from mentors—and landing them incredible jobs, jump starting their professional careers, while cementing their appreciation and love for vintage cars and racing. What more do you want?”