Oct. 28, 2002
How many people know someone who has built a car? If you know Brown junior Laurel Pierpont (Jacksonville, FL), a member of both the field hockey and lacrosse teams at Brown, you can say you know someone. Pierpont, who has been one of the top scorers of both teams since her freshman year, has also been helping to rebuild and build cars since her senior year of high school.
"My family had an old 1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and we really didn't know what to do with it because we were moving from Connecticut to Florida," Pierpont said. "I had heard of a Professor at school who was interested in restoring cars, and together with five friends and the professor, we restored the car to practically mint condition."
Pierpont, who had never had an interest in cars prior to this, and her friends read-up on car and engine restoration, getting started on rebuilding the engine during the first semester. This entailed working with all new pistons, cylinders, the casing, and also cleaning it.
Work followed in the spring when the group stripped the car down to its shell, and realigned the car, adding new brakes and a rebuilt suspension. They also did a lot of body work, involving copper spot welding and bondo, a putty-like material. Using simple tools to make such things as the headlights, Pierpont's group completed the job by painting it. The entire project was finished about two weeks after graduation and Pierpont and her father tested the new engine by driving the car from Concord, Ma to Jacksonville, FL, a two day road trip.
"It seemed like the perfect distance to break in the new engine. We alternated between speeds of 50 and 65 MPH... with the top down ... going south on I-95," Pierpont stated. "We had to vary the speed to get all of the rings set ... it was the best road trip ever." With this newly-found love of cars, Pierpont decided to join the Brown racing team, which she discovered at the Activities Fair as a freshman. This team spends the entire academic year building a Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) racing car. Formula SAE is similar to Formula 1, but for students, most of whom are engineers, or in Pierpont's case, an environmentalist.
The SAE outlines the rules for the competition (roughly 130 cars) as well as the restrictions on the car itself, for such things as safety, speed, and noise. From there, the students build a "suped-up racing car" with a motorcycle engine to be used at the international collegiate competition, hosted by the SAE, at the end of each academic year in Pontiac, MI. The event is sponsored by such names as Ford, GM, and Chrysler, who also serve as the panel of judges for the design, cost, and business presentations.
Each team is required to submit a cost report, which has to show how the $25,000 (the maximum cost for the actual car) was spent and must include every single item bought. Then the actual design is presented, which is done using power point as well as elaborate posters and explanations, covering things such as how the car was tested as well as a question and answer period critiquing the overall design. This past year, Pierpont helped to lead the team to a 10th place finish.
As a freshman, Pierpont started off with the SAE team getting aquainted with all of the machinery and tools, and later worked on little parts and projects during her sophomore year as time permitted. This year, she has taken on the sponsoring responsibilities for the team, which she can do on her own time, not necessarily in the shop.
"I have sent out packages to former sponsors with t-shirts, pictures, and results from last year," Pierpont stated. " I'm currently compiling a booklet for new sponsors to explain who we are, what we do, and try to get them to join our team." So, you might be asking what an environmentalist and dual-sport athlete is doing building race cars.
"I started off as an engineering major at Brown," Pierpont said, "but as I found myself I realized I care more about the environment and that is where my real passion is. There is no way, though, that I will ever turn away from cars. I will always have the urge to pick up a wrench."
And how does she combine her love for speed with her love for the environment? Pierpont spent her summer vacation working as an SCA (Student Conservation Association) intern on the Canaveral National Seashore, in Titusville, FL. "The second I heard I could work for the environment and drive ATV's, I knew I wanted to do the internship," Pierpont exclaimed.
Pierpont worked with sea turtles, doing excavations over 24 miles of land and 4,000 nests. During the day shift, she would check the nests to make sure everything was intact. At night, work consisted of marking the nests, screening them, and covering them with sand. In addition, Pierpont learned how to tag some of the turtles and perform biopsies on the mothers. And where is the car that Pierpont got her start on? "The car still runs great and is in excellent shape," says Pierpont. "Since I 'm not home, my father takes it out at least once a week, just to run the engine."
And how does she have time to play two sports, major in environmental studies and help to build cars? "I don't know how I could not play two sports," she explains. "It gets me into a routine, and I am able to budget my time more efficiently."Both coaches [Carolan Norris and Theresa Ingram] have been so supportive of my extra-curricular interests, of my demanding major, and my participating in two sports," Pierpont added. "I currently have an estuary class that requires a field work component in Narragansett on Fridays from 1:00-5:00 p.m. I race back to get to field hockey practice right now, but Carolan is so understanding and supports my choices."
While Pierpont may have a love of the slow-moving turtles and be leaning towards environmentalism for a career, she plans to always keep the speed of the racecar as a hobby.