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Near the college finish line, Dan Sperling looks to racing

Areas of Study , Marketing Stories | Feb 21, 2012 |

Dan Sperling (GSB ’12), left, consults with fellow race crew members before a start.

by Faye Kulik (GSB ’13)

When Dan Sperling (GSB ’12) walked into dinner at New Jersey’s Flirt Sushi in February 2011, he had no idea that an ordinary meal would lead to an incredible summer internship.

It was at this dinner that Dan, a Gabelli senior majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing, who has a passion for cars and auto racing, unexpectedly met back up with Alan Wilzig, the former CEO of the Trust Company of New Jersey and an avid racer. The two had met during the summer of Dan’s freshman year on a reality TV show called The Robinhood Rally, and they ended up at the restaurant together that night through a mutual friend.

Mr. Wilzig invited Dan to join him for an upcoming racing weekend during spring break in Sebring, Florida, part of the 2011 season American LeMans Series, which he had entered in the Prototype Lites class. Dan, driven by his deep enthusiasm for automotive racing, accepted without hesitation. There, he gave a helping hand and worked all day and night to ensure that everything was ready for the day’s race. The team came in third, and Mr. Wilzig, impressed by Dan’s hard work and diligence, asked if he was interested in doing a full season with “Team Wilzig.” Without a second thought, Dan was in.

The season ran from March through October and included stops in Florida, Toronto, Connecticut, California and Georgia. Dan had dreamed about participating in auto racing, but he never thought he would be involved at this caliber while still a college student.

“Friends would ask me what I was doing over the weekend, and I’d reply, ‘I’m going racing in California this weekend and in Georgia next week!’” Dan recalled.

The internship exposed Dan to a variety of areas related to auto racing, including engineering, logistics and data analysis, marketing and general management. It wasn’t a typical 9-to-5 corporate internship; instead, Dan said, “it was a passionate and exciting experience, with great amounts of stress at times.” He recounted one memorable example of that stress: With five minutes to go until a start, the team’s driver was nowhere to be found, and his racing suit was still hanging in the trailer. Dan and his fellow team members had to scramble to find him. Challenging projects were everywhere. Dan once helped to change an engine that had overheated during a race — a job that normally takes six hours but had to be done in four.

In his role as a management intern, Dan ensured that the driver was ready, that car tires were always changed, and that tools and equipment were loaded onto transportation carts. His tasks related closely to his Gabelli coursework in Statistics and Operations Management. He recognized that every person played a significant role in the racing process, and he saw firsthand how crucial it was for team members to work accurately. If wheels weren’t bolted properly, for example, it could ruin a $500,000 car and endanger the driver’s life.

After racing sessions, Dan downloaded race statistics, looking in particular at throttle positioning, RPMs, G-forces and braking thresholds. He also analyzed time and speed statistics to help drivers see how they fared against competitors in various circumstances.

Alan Wilzig, right, celebrates after a race.

“I didn’t realize at first that the data would look so similar to my class materials from Statistics,” Dan said. “I was very familiar with it early on.”

Dan hopes to return to the auto-racing industry as a self-financed entity so that he can race alongside the members of Team Wilzig who gave him such a valuable start. He is especially thankful to Mr. Wilzig and his engineers Peter and Erik for “providing me with this amazing opportunity and a major highlight of my college experience.”

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