Meet the Crew: Ben Siegel
Meet the Crew: Ben Siegel
Ed Carpenter Racing
September 20, 2013
September 20th 2013 - BEN SIEGEL, Race Engineer
The University of Louisville graduate serves as an assistant race engineer at Ed Carpenter Racing…. Siegel came to ECR after working with driver Rubens Barrichello at the KV Racing Technology team in 2011…. The Georgetown, KY, native began his motorsports career while attending engineering classes in college…. Worked in various aspects of the Louisville Formula SAE team including building cars, chief engineer and team principal… Upon graduation, Siegel joined the Accelerace Motorsports USF2000 operation, winning the class championship in his first season…. Siegel works closely with lead race engineer Matt Barnes and other engineering staff members Brent Harvey, Ed Delporte and Joe Howard.
Did you have any interest in racing as you were growing up?
"I sort of grew up around the Indy 500. My family always went to the race. I thought that the time frame of the year as a kid was when the Indy 500 was coming up. I knew it was springtime and school was about to get out. It was kind of like Christmas for me. My family followed IndyCar racing and I wanted to get into the sport somehow. We watched every race we could on TV. We didn’t have cable when I was young so I just watched ABC-TV. Or I went to a friend’s house to watch the races. I raced BMX bicycles when I was growing up. I looked at racing go-kart but just couldn’t get into it. When I was middle school, I also played some football. I was pretty hardcore in swimming in high school and I was also in ‘Drum Line’ in high school and for a while. In college, I was a life guard and taught swim lessons. I actually looked at swimming at IUPUI at one point. But I went to UL. When I went to college (University of Louisville), I definitely followed IndyCars and Formula One.”
Did you then take certain classes in college to learn engineering?
I went into college with the direction of being a mechanical engineer. And I also looked at being an aeronautical engineer too. I figured I was going to work on cars or airplanes of some sort. It is a very broad field with the mechanical engineering side. I knew I always wanted to be in motorsports so I began looking hard into that field. I started with the Formula SAE program through the school. The SAE program jumpstarted me into professional motorsports at that point.”
You were able to do a variety of things in the Formula SAE program. How was that experience?
"That was the best motorsports program I could have gotten into in college. Our program was voluntary and we were able to work on a variety of projects within the program. It was completely student-run. We had to get our own sponsorship and build our own cars. And we competed against some cars and teams with $100,000 budgets. We were able to raise less $30,000 for our effort. It is like most racing efforts. It’s tough to get sponsorship, especially at that level. We were able to get some materials donated and that really helped us. It was perfect for us because we could form some relationships for possible jobs in the future. It wasn’t much money but spare material they had lying around. The cars were open-wheel with a motorcycle engine. We ran a Honda 600cc motor. We had to buy the engine. We would go find a wrecked bike and get some parts including the electronics. There were about 20 guys in our program, then about ten who worked on the car and five or six who regularly put in the hours to make it happen. At first, you are learning how the car goes together. You needed to know what parts would work and how to find areas around the car that made it easier to work on. Then you could design the proper pieces. Things like that still work in the IndyCar side if you discover a design flaw. You want to make it fail safe and mechanically friendly too. You learned those lessons when you are getting your hands dirty in the project.”
Were you able to work in different capacities in Formula SAE?
"I was able to get into the design side of the project and then you are into the team management level of the process. Some of us had different positions at different times. I was the chief designer and the technical director on the whole car. We were able to actually build the car on campus in a machine shop that was available. Not everything was made in-house there but quite a number of things for the race car were made in the shop. The engineering building at school had a Haas Regional Shop so we had some parts made with those machines. We had some uprights made there and a few other parts. We built our own steering wheel, intake and built our own electric shifter from scratch. Unfortunately, we didn’t get school credit for the program but we learned a lot. Some schools do give credit for the SAE program. But it a great learning experience and helped for our future job hunting.”
Did you then move into an actual motorsports position as an intern or employee?
"Yes, I watching an IndyCar race on TV and thinking how can I make the next step into the motorsports world. I had tried contacting teams throughout my college years. But I was in Louisville rather than Indy and that was difficult to do an internship from there. So I was watching the race and an ad for USF2000 popped on. I thought I could maybe get in racing at a lower level. That program is publicized for drivers but it is good from anyone trying to get into the sport -- mechanics, engineers, team management, PR and marketing. It’s a ladder system for everyone. Then I googled USF2000 and saw that there was a team based in Louisville. The first team on the list was Accelerace Motorsports and clicked on it. I went to their web page and it looked very legit. They was just down the road from me. I sent off my resume at 9 a.m. the next morning. I got a call by 10:30 a.m. and two days later I was on a truck going to Iowa for the first race.”
What did the USF2000 team have you do at first?
"I really hadn’t been involved in motorsports other than the Formula SAE program. So they were trying to see what I would know. I was checking tire pressures, changing tires and other things. Ardie Greenamyer was the driver and we then went on to win that first race in our class. And we won the National Class point title that year. I continue on with them for the rest of the season with exception of a couple of races due to school. I had more than enough on my plate with school, Formula SAE and the USF2000 team. Plus I had a future wife and girlfriend in the mix too. It was very busy. It was my junior year in school.”
Did you stay with the team after you graduated from college?
"I was still helping the team and, at the same time, I had a co-op (intern) job with an architectural firm in Louisville. Then they brought me on full-time at that firm. I got married the same year. Things were a little quieter for me with no school and no Formula SAE program. In the fall and early winter, I went on a test with a different USF2000 team to help them. And I also had sent off resumes to other racing teams. I landed back in Louisville after the test and I got an email from an IndyCar team. They wanted to have me come to Indy for an interview. A few days later after the interview, they offered me a job and they wondered how quickly I could get to Indy. So I was up at KV Racing Technology right after that. KV was the first team to call me for an interview. I was an assistant engineer for Rubens Barrichello’s car. I was able to work with Garrett Mothersead and Eddie Jones and they were fantastic to work with there.”
How did you come to ECR?
"KV let a bunch of people go at the end of the 2012 season. So I wasn’t sure where I fit into their plans as they were interested in keeping me on for the next year. But there was a good opportunity with Ed Carpenter Racing and I liked the things they were doing here. I interviewed here in the next day or so after the KV situation. And I got an offer soon after that. I started on my birthday. And it worked out great.”
How does your job responsibility work here now?
"It’s a little different than at KV. They had a three-car team and it was little different with the bigger operation. I like the smaller team here at ECR. I think there is more responsibility here now and, in my second year in IndyCars, I think I can handle more activities too. I’d like to continue down that path. We are a smaller team and we have a smaller engineering staff. So all of us are going to the tests and working on a variety of things. It is a little more work but I think we can go over more information with the smaller staff.”
You are the youngest on the team in experience, do you ask for help at times?
"Everyone is very willing to help me. People with a lot of experience have always seemed to help me or answer questions I have. I have always been lucky enough to find the right people to assist me whenever I needed someone to explain things. We have an experienced team here but I feel it is a young team too. This team is younger than a lot of other teams. The younger crowd seems to want to help the new kid on the block and that is a big benefit for me. They want to help build the team as a whole. And if we grow the team here, everyone will know how to work together. That will give us the depth we need.”
What is the toughest part of your job with ECR?
"The hardest part for me personally is I want to put in more effort each day. I always want to push myself. I don’t feel I need to be pushed. I want to have the pressure to keep trying harder with my job. I want to do things faster and learn quicker. I probably need to be patient at times to not give too much input when I am dealing with people who are much more experienced than me. It’s never a negative situation for me. I just want to push myself as quickly as possible. Matt (Barnes) is pretty young too but he is always willing to explain things and work with me on how things should go. Matt is always very honest with me and I like that.”