“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”-Steven Spielberg
Genius Garage isn’t just the world’s greatest automotive engineering mentoring program, it’s probably the only one of its kind. The Bowling Green, Ohio-based program screamed onto the scene back in 2013, when vintage race car driver and all-around automotive enthusiast Casey Putsch realized that the world had not been firing on all twelve cylinders without an automotive engineering mentoring program.
Looking to offer students the opportunity he so desperately desired, yet never received, Putsch started Genius Garage with impressive intentions. The plan was to give aspiring young free-thinkers and engineers a program that could serve as a springboard of sorts. He wanted to provide the average young person with a mentor-mentee relationship that would help them transition from the monotony of mandated engineering classes to a highly challenging hands-on experience, and then onward to the top of the hiring ladder.
Over the course of the six-months between spring and the end of race season, 8 students build, maintain, modify, and brainstorm in a garage built around aero engineering advancements, motorcycles, race cars, and all manner of mobility. When asked if there are plans to expand class attendance over time, Putsch explains that he keeps his program at this size for two reasons. In order to maintain some form of sanity, and avoid being spread too thin, Putsch tries to keep enrollment numbers to under ten students. In contrast, he has also discovered that if Genius Garage has fewer than eight students “shit never gets done,” therefore enrollment tends to stay at these numbers year after year.
Growing Pains and the Power of YouTube
While Genius Garage has seen great success in recent years, it wasn’t all smooth shifting back in the early days, with the program stalling immediately after launching off the line. At the time, Putsch was mentoring students at OSU and working at a vintage car lot on the side to make ends meet. Despite having a solid path paved ahead, and being revered as one hell of a good mentor, Putsch struggled to find traction in both boosting publicity for the program and securing sponsor dollars.
“In the early days I was just mentoring and investing a ton of time, money, and energy into helping kids… I was barely scraping by, and had no idea how long the program would last.”-Casey Putsch, CEO President of Genius Garage
It was not until Putsch teamed-up with YouTube sensation VINwiki that things suddenly shifted into high-gear. Shortly after word got out about Genius Garage’s endeavors, an anonymous angel investor helped fund the tools and shop space that the the average mentoring relationship so desperately needed. From there things really began to gather momentum, and in recent years the program has overseen everything from maintaining and racing a garage filled with real race cars, to automotive design, historical and modern aircraft building, drone development, high-powered rocketry, and much more…
When asked about Genius Garage’s inception, and what caused the first spark to ignite in his mind, Putsch laughed, and launched into one of his signature spiels.
“I had just finished restoring my 1982 Lamborghini Countach,” Putsch explains vehemently, as taking hearty swigs of caffeine between sentences from a massive mug. “Honestly, I got pissed-off about seeing all of these people chasing money and not adding value to the car community. I went rogue, [in order] to give an opportunity to another generation. My thought was, if I’m going to be doing this anyway, I might as well give back and help others.”
Mentoring Done Differently… Hands-on and Minds Open
Genius Garage’s “mentees” (mentorship attendees if you will), are led by a group of different mentors that volunteer their time to develop mentoring relationships, as they encourage, instruct, and work alongside some of the world’s brightest young minds. These professional leaders come from all walks of life and career paths. From global CEOs and sports professionals, to fighter pilots, racing engineers, members of Interpol, and entrepreneurs, the array of motivational masterminds that come through Genius Garage’s paddock is impressive to say the least. Hell, they’ve even hosted the former Chief of Staff to Sir Winston Churchill!
But In order to effectively “bridge the gap between academia and industry,” Putsch knew that he couldn’t just rely upon guest speakers and inspiring soliloquies. This is an engineering mentoring program we’re talking about here, not creative writing camp. There had to be a metric mess-load of hands-on projects for the students to delve into for the program to work. So in true Casey Putsch fashion he went above and beyond, and before long Genius Garage was teaming with experimental aircraft prototypes, high-powered rocketry, large scale complex kite designs, and the all-time crowd favorite, NASCAR and Formula 1 race car programs.
“These collaborations serve to give the brightest young minds their shot to show the world what they are capable of and begin a career that warrants achievement at their full potential.”-Casey Putsch
Putsch explains that an average day at Genius Garage is all about autonomy, and allowing mentees ample room to forge their own paths. Instead of having a teacher or peer mentor overseeing every little detail, Putsch prefers to let a Genius Garage student figure things out for themselves, while still being accessible if someone becomes hopelessly stumped. By encouraging his mentees to rely upon their own wits and knowledge, Putsch has given students the ability to try things on their own, and in some instances, fail. Sometimes it is the lesson that is learned from correcting a mistake that gives an aspiring engineer an edge in this increasingly competitive world. Here there is no chastising or negativity. Just recognition of what went awry and why, and a commitment to either fix the issue or do it right from the beginning next time.
There are plenty of other ways in which this program is pushing the boundaries of what a mentoring program and a successful mentor-mentee relationship should be, with full-scale replicas of World War One-era Sopwith Camel biplanes being built from scratch over the course of four months serving as a prime example.
And then there’s the “Lykan Hypersport” project, which as the video below illustrates, offers Genius Garage mentees one hell of a memorable and challenging assignment. You may recall this extremely rare hypercar from the film Furious 7, as it jumped from building to building. The one that Genius Garage is tinkering with was obtained via Ed Bolian of VINwiki, and was actually a stun replica used in the now defunct Fast & Furious Live show. After taking possession of the donated shell (production models ran a cool $3.4 million a pop), Putsch unleashed his minions upon the obscure stunt prop in order to turn it into a fully functional vehicle.
How the Genius Garage Racing Program Works
The Genius Garage racing team is a group of the brightest and most driven college students, all hand-selected by Putsch. In Putsch’s eyes, being part of a racing team provides a fundamental experience, for few lessons in this world contain the same extreme levels of intensity, precision, and competitiveness as racing.
During the six-month term spanning from spring until the end of racing season, Genius Garage’s students maintain a paddock filled with real race cars, including Dario Franchitti’s 800+ horsepower Hogan Reynard Champ Car from the late 1990s. There is also a 680 horsepower March/Bennett WSC prototype of the same vintage, a 700 horsepower IMSA GTO Corvette from the 1980s, a 700 horsepower John Greenwood Corvette GT car from the 1970s, and a 1976 Ferrari 308 Vetroresina that once competed in IMSA.
“Genius Garage is a rare entity to enable certain students to further explore life outside of academia… a fully equipped working laboratory where advanced hands on learning in aviation engineering and racing car technology can take place; all of which at no charge to the participant!”-Tom Shelton, race driver and former owner of Shelton Ferrari
Here, students are in charge of every aspect of maintaining and rebuilding the vehicles, with everything from car paint protection and prepping for vintage-racing events like the Brickyard Invitational at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to all forms of race day duty. Some of these duties include engineering and fabricating replacement parts, managing support logistics, handling media and public relations, following a strictly outlined list of race car maintenance tips, and much more.
Everything from project and time management, to problem solving under tight deadlines and interdisciplinary communications, it all gets put into gear via Genius Garage’s race programs. Ordering parts for a blown engine rebuild, handling all of the logistics that go into attending races and various other automotive events, and keeping a race car on track by managing a paddock are just a few examples of the many challenges that team members encounter when working on one of Genius Garage’s race programs.
“There’s so much more to the experience than just learning to wrench on race cars. The program is really about exposing young, bright-eyed students to the interpersonal and professional skills they need to achieve their dreams.”-Clint Teece, 2015 Team Member, Mechanical Engineering Major
Benefits of an Automotive Engineering Mentoring Program
Although Genius Garage is a 501(c)(3) public educational charity, certain educational institutions are keen on offering credit to those who successfully complete their tenure at this unique six-month-long mentoring program. In return, mentees are required to log no more than ten hours of shop time per week, with the occasional field trip and/or track day being the only other mandatory time commitment.
By joining this unique automotive engineering mentoring program, students receive a fully funded, six-month-long educational internship at Genius Garage, completely free of charge. There is also room for those who wish to stick around and help Casey with future projects, much like how Peyton did with the KingZero supercar build.
While in attendance, students not only gain access to Putsch’s engineering and racing experience, but to a team of highly skilled volunteers as well. These volunteers are everything from corporate CEOs and fighter pilots, to racing engineers, and entrepreneurs. Regardless of what their background might be, all of Genius Garage’s volunteers are there to provide an effective mentor relationship and help the next generation realize that careers go well beyond electrical or mechanical engineering. Throw in a few field trips to NASA, some time learning from veteran race teams, and the occasional random road trip, and you’ve got one hell of an engaging mentoring program on your hands.
So how effective is Genius Garage in regard to providing a successful mentoring relationship and offering notable levels of professional development? Thus far, Genius Garage grads have gone on to obtain jobs, internships, and scholarships with various corporations, including Tesla, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, the Dana Corporation, and more.
“The Genius Garage program is one of a kind… I was so afraid of my future because I know for a fact that the knowledge I got from my college is not going to be a great help in the outside world. Casey Putsch helped me overcome that fear and gain confidence.”-- Karthik Naga, 2018 Team Member, Technology Management Major
While the overall car value associated with some of these oddball shop builds may not be much, the lessons learned and experience gained during a six month stint at Genius Garage is absolutely priceless. From sketching and planning, to fabricating and building, the multi-disciplinary blend of communication skills, creative problem solving, and engineering that is required is downright impressive.
“Looking back, Genius Garage was much more than just an internship. Taking part in Genius Garage was a hands-on way for me to get experience in the field I had dreamed of working in as a kid. It helped me to show my potential employers and more importantly, myself, why I would be the best engineer for the job.”-Mahesh Chigurupati, 2014 Team Member, Chemical Engineering Major
How to Get Into the Genius Garage Automotive Engineering Mentoring Program
When asked as to whether the whole COVID-19 shit-storm had caused any major snags over at Genius Garage, Putsch just looks at me, grins and says, “After everyone at Genius Garage passes their mandatory quarantine, we just stay in the shop. We’re like a tight-knit family.”
So how does one go about becoming a part of Genius Garage? For the average high school or college student looking to pick-up a new skill or refine an existing one, applications can be submitted between January 1st and February 28th of each new year, which is a full two months prior to the program’s start. Just keep your eyes peeled for updates on program openings via Genius Garage’s various social media platforms. All applicants must include a resume and a cover letter explaining why they consider themselves an ideal candidate for Genius Garage, as well as an explanation as to how these programs will benefit their life and career. Top applicants are then interviewed via phone, followed by an in-person interview on premise at Genius Garage.
Mandatory qualifications include a high school or collegiate status, and the ability to commit to a six month long mentoring internship. Although a mentee’s academic background does not matter as much as their willingness to learn, having an engineering background definitely helps. You should also display a willingness to tackle any task, and have a sense of humor. You never know when your day might start with buffing a car in preparation for a layer of ceramic coating, all while Putsch cracks dad jokes about how “buff you look.”
Oh, and before we go. Did we mention that instead of posting a bunch of videos on YouTube about the mind-boggling protective powers of AvalonKing’s Armor Shield IX DIY ceramic coating kit, Putsch decided to blow all of our sponsor dollars on a garage-built, mid-engine V12 supercar? Apparently this concoction is built upon the chassis of a Porsche Boxster, the powerplant of an old BMW 750iL, and the creativity of Putsch and a Genius Garage alumni named Peyton, who came back this year in order to complete a full-blown apprenticeship. Check out the video update below, which highlights some recent mods made to Putsch’s “KingZero” supercar. And no, we’re not mad. Just a bit curious to see what Putsch has in store for this bizarre build. Stay tuned…
“Genius Garage is a place not only to learn but also to grow on an individual and team basis. Rounding out a resume is great and will help any student succeed when they make it to the real world.”-Brock Hoops, 2018 Team Member, Mechanical Engineering Major