None of this is just me! It’s all of us, together, working towards the same goals,” said Elaine Larsen, pointing around the cavernous, hallowed out
complex that has evolved into Larsen Motorsports, part of Florida Tech’s Research and Development Center in Palm Bay.
Shiny and scuffed racecars, engines in various stages of repair and the smell of fuel heavy in the air, Larsen tours visitors around the different sections of the working facility, pointing the hanging signs that label the different processes of the research and design team. The team is made up of students from Florida Tech and Eastern Florida State College studying in the STEAM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), and each plays a unique role in the development and growth of the Larsen Motorsports enterprise.
This is the genius behind the enterprise – and something Elaine uses to full potential – the volunteer and unharnessed energy and enthusiasm of the LMS Team, most in their early 20’s, all wicked smart and very engaged. “They are the smart ones, I just let them do their thing and we are always moving forward,” she said.
At each station inside the facility, Larsen stops to introduce a graduate or undergraduate student. She knows each of them by first name, and encourages them to speak up about work, dreams, education – most anything that helps build their confidence. They handle huge responsibilities as part of this team, but each one is suited to the particular task they are assigned.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” said Paige Sanchez, 23, who is helping to develop new applications for foam technology in the LMS racecars. “But I can’t imagine doing anything I like more,” she said, her smile widening.
Larsen has been racing for 25 years and is considered one of the best in the industry. You might have seen her on the Jay Leno special recently (if not, search for it on YouTube), where she raced and blew past the Corvette he was driving like it was standing still. Her car, the Florida Institute of Technology jet dragster is 27-feet and 1145 lbs., with a jet engine strapped inside that can go 0 to 100 mph in one second. “And that’s what I like,” said Larsen, “to light it up and go fast.”
These days, Larsen is also turning attention in a new direction – blazing a new trail, you might say. Working further with students who are contributing graphic design and writing and editing skills, Larsen is laying out the content for Blaze – an anime style limited edition comic book that will feature Halley Sparx, a character of Larsen’s vivid imagination.
The book is novel (and inspirational) in its approach: using education and a diversified collection of Intergalactic Girls storylines to solve complex STEAM challenges using superpowers and teamwork. For the first issue, support for the curriculum came from Florida Tech, who partners with Larsen on her research and development work in the Palm Bay facility. “In our first engine, we have Blaze working on how to increase air flow to the engine and all the team members have to work together to make it happen,” she said.
This is also the way Larsen does business with her crew: They meet weekly to have discussion about what’s happening with the cars, and the team offers solutions and works out the kinks together.
“They also tell me what they need, what types of new tools or technology we need to be considering to improve our build and maintenance processes; we vote on the suggestions and one team member usually gets what they want.”
It’s that inclusive spirit, and giving others a chance to be heard that elevates Larsen’s credibility most with her team. They respect her, they like her and they want to do a good job for her. She repays them with opportunity to travel, to speak, to design new things, to create, and by encouraging them to find a way to live their own dreams, as she does.
And what’s more important in any business than inspiring your team to do their best? To dream and to work hard? Oh, yeah. Maybe letting them help design, build and race custom jet dragsters. Yeah, there’s always that.