Despite the hot, humid Italian July afternoon that it was, with the kind of drizzle in the air that glues your clothes to your body and is, to say the least, not at all comfortable, she and the rest of the group didn’t want to leave. The bus was on its way to the Bolognia Guglielmo Marconi Airport, carrying students who’d just spent 10 warm but exciting days during a summer internship at the Motorvehicle University of Emilia-Romagna immersed in high-performance vehicle engineering, learning about worldwide leaders in the automotive industry.
Someone aboard the bus brought up the 24 Hours of Lemons endurance car racing series. Valencia High School soon-to-be senior Sridula Senthil and some of her friends from the internship overheard the discussion and were a little more than serious about signing up themselves.
The 24 Hours of Lemons is a series of 24-hour races that take place throughout the year on various racetracks around the country, which, according to the website, is for amateur racers with $500 cars. Senthil and her new friends were eager to get a cheap car of their own and hit the track.
“I’ve always been a horrible planner,” Senthil told The Signal during a recent phone interview. “I’m super impulsive.”
She recounted projects she’d started at home and then left unfinished.
“I can tell you that my mom, just this weekend, was like, ‘Oh, you know that Lego kit that you broke a couple of days ago? You should put that back together.’ And by a couple of days ago, that was probably a couple of years ago.”
Perhaps not always a finisher, competing in the 24 Hours of Lemons racing series is something she said she wouldn’t leave undone.
Senthil developed an interest in cars when she was young. Her dad, she said, who’s a Formula 1 race fan, got her into watching motorsports.
“So, it started there, just watching races,” Senthil said. “Going into high school kind of opened me up to the technical side of things, things that I wasn’t really able to understand at a young age with limited knowledge.”
She gives credit to a physics teacher she had at Valencia High — Nicole Ellis — for exposing her to the idea of applying the sciences to things she was passionate about.
“After being able to take that class, I found this summer program (the one in Italy), and I felt like it really aligned with things that I want to pursue in the future.”
While in Italy, the program gave her the opportunity to work with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ducati and Dallara. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, she said.
“They allowed us into their factories, and we were just able to spend a couple of days with each one, learning about how their factories operate, how their racing teams operate, how their marketing operates, how each one is looking into the future of motorsports in general. In addition to that, we were also able to take courses around at the master’s graduate level on different aspects of road cars.
“So, we took courses on noise vibrations, harshness, CAD with SolidWorks, and ergonomics driver comfort, the future of the automotive industry. We had a bunch of little courses like that where we’d be in the classroom, and then we’d go out and look at the fields that we want to work in as well.”
Senthil hopes to study mechanical engineering at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art college in New York, and then seek out some kind of work in the automotive industry, perhaps in race engineering. When the idea of competing in the 24 Hours of Lemons race came up, where teams would share responsibilities as drivers, the pit crew and crew chiefs, she said it seemed like a good way to get started on her career path.
“Some of my friends who live in Atlanta, Georgia, they’ve been through these races before, and it’s just a whole lot of fun,” she said. “It’s amateur racers who have little to no experience with actual racing. Just come out, have a nice track day, 24 hours.”
With support from family and teachers, Senthil’s team organized, and they’ve been meeting regularly over Zoom. The group includes Senthil, high school seniors Alice Hudson of Portsmouth in Great Britain, Elijah Klee of Traverse City, Michigan, Louis Papera of Atlanta, and high school junior Harrison Mitchell, who’s also from Atlanta. They decided to enter one of the races that’s planned for Aug. 12-13 in Joliet, Illinois.
Right out of the gate, Senthil and the others realized they’d need more money than they had to pay for plane tickets, racing suits, helmets, restraints, gloves, shoes, a race seat and harnesses for the car, gasoline for the car, not to mention the car. They actually bought two.
“We got two 1998 Cadillac de Ville coupes for $750,” Senthil said. “That was probably one of the hardest things to find. We spent ages on Craigslist and in other car junkyards just trying to find something that wasn’t completely totaled, but fixable, I guess. And that was for sure very hard. But we managed to get a great deal in Traverse City, Michigan (where one of the team members lives), and that’s why we’re all meeting in Michigan. Because the car is currently in Michigan.”
In July, the team will go out there to work on the car before they head to Joliet for the race the following month. The group hopes to use the second car for parts, and then perhaps sell anything they don’t use for profit.
“We can even just completely sell that car because, according to Kelley Blue Book, it currently goes for $2,000 if it’s in good condition,” she said. “So, if we’re able to fix up some of the problems that the car has right now — it has some problems with the exhaust and it does overheat a bit — if we managed to fix those problems, we could probably resell it for a good price, and that would also go toward our total budget.”
Asked how Senthil learned to work on cars since most high schools don’t offer auto shop any longer, the high schooler said she took classes at College of the Canyons. She’s also on her school’s robotics team, which is a help.
Still, the team is primarily concerned with coming up with the money to fund their involvement in the race. In December, they created a GoFundMe page with a goal to raise $15,000. As of the publishing of this story, the page has generated $500.
But Senthil is confident they’ll be ready to go on race day. She said the GoFundMe page will be active up through August.
“Any bit of money will help us,” she said. “We’re currently working on plane tickets before they get too expensive. I know that my friend who’s flying in from Great Britain, Alice — she’s paying over $1,000 for her ticket.”
For someone who claimed she hasn’t always been a finisher, Senthil doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As she and most of her teammates will also be sharing duties behind the wheel during the 24 Hours of Lemons race, she definitely sees herself crossing the finish line on this one.
To support the effort, go to the team’s GoFundMe page at bit.ly/3lidx9O.