There are some jobs that seem more fantasy than reality. Rock star, astronaut and U.S. President are just a few. But added to that list of dream jobs is race car driver, often listed as a top choice by children of all ages, inspired by the races they see on TV. For every dream job, though, a team provides support. One of the most essential support positions for every race team is the mechanical engineer who acts as a liaison between the driver and the team of mechanics. This person has the expertise and skills to analyze data, decide what needs to be performed and direct the team to complete it.
Nationally, a race car engineer earns an average of $73,000 a year, plus benefits. The range starts at $41,000 and tops out at $80,000, depending on location and employer. Although racetracks are located across the country, an engineer may need to relocate to access the higher-range salaries, since the biggest racetracks are located in Florida, Wisconsin, Utah and California.
For a big boost in salary, though, direct your sights toward NASCAR. An engineer for the popular stock-car racing company averages $91,667. Engineer salaries with the company top out at $150,000, making it a career goal for those who hope to earn six figures.
In order to qualify for a position as a race car engineer, you'll need a background in mechanical engineering, preferably specific to vehicles, along with a relevant engineering degree from a respected university. Motorsports Engineering degrees are available at colleges across the nation, including the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology and the University of North Carolina Charlotte. In fact, according to UNC Charlotte, roughly 15 percent of all NASCAR engineers graduated from the school. These programs also include the hands-on experience you'll need to land a job.
If you haven't worked in any form of automotive engineering, consider volunteering with a local team to get the experience you need. Also, consider participating in Formula SAE (FSAE), an eight- to 12-month program where students design formula-style racing cars, since it can be a resume booster.
A career as a race car engineer can be lucrative and rewarding, as long as you're prepared for unconventional hours and plenty of travel. If you're willing to get the education and experience necessary, you can earn close to a six-figure salary in the field, while also getting to help your favorite drivers cross the finish line.