Strolling by ECSW, a glance through the center bottom-floor window reveals the construction of a competitive racing car – a glimpse into where intellect meets innovation. A dedicated group of students diligently collaborate on crafting the optimal vehicle.
Representing the Dallas Formula Racing group, a student-led organization at UTD established in 2014, these students are propelled into hands-on experiences in engineering and math. The collaboration spans four different schools at UTD, with 18 majors represented. At its core, DFR is more than a student organization – it’s a community that fosters technical skills, teamwork and business acumen through designing a new car every year, said Rayyan Sappayani, mechanical engineering senior and former president of DFR. DFR allows students to participate in outreach events and to delve into specific aspects required to build the car including part design, data analysis, manufacturing, testing, marketing and fundraising.
“Through all this, our students get a lot of benefits such as internship opportunities, and job opportunities, but most importantly, they get to grow as engineers and as people,” Sappayani said.
DFR faces off against other formula racing clubs internationally in the Formula SAE competition, hosted by the Society of Automotive Engineers. This Collegiate Design Series pushes students, challenging them to design, build and test these formula-style vehicles. Senior Alan Frias, majoring in electrical and electronics engineering and the Electrical EV lead for DFR, emphasized the hard work being done on the car for the Formula SAE competition with the payoff resulting in half the people on the DFR team landing internships with companies like Tesla and Apple. The competition includes technical inspections, racing events and business presentations. The business presentations focus on aspects like cost and design, with the DFR team being No. 1 in Texas for the 2022 Business Presentation component.
“If you want to do something, you got to do it yourself,” Frias said. “Nobody’s there to hold your hand, nobody’s there to give you a free pass so you just got to do the work.”
Manuel De Jesus Contreras, the EV Chief Engineer for DFR and an electrical engineering sophomore, said the team is accessible to students of all majors and experience levels. He credited his involvement with DFR in helping to secure a GM internship and expanding his on-campus engagement, including a research assistant role.
“If you’re a student at UTD who’s interested in increasing their value for a potential employer, getting involved with some organization on campus is the way to go,” Contreras said.
Dennis Yermakov, Business Director for DFR majoring in Computer Information Systems and Technology mentioned Formula SAE not only promotes engineering excellence but also encompasses the entire automotive industry, from research design to marketing and finance. Within DFR, there are two specialized teams: the Electric Vehicle (EV) team and the Internal Combustion (IC) team. The business team is comprised of three areas: corporate relations, social media and events coordination and they work towards raising $50,000-$60,000 in funding each year to ensure the team can build the competition vehicle. In the annual 2023 Comets Giving Day, a fundraiser held by UTD, DFR raised $11,000, more money than some of the UTD groups involved like the Physics department. Yermakov also noted that DFR helps to grow technical skills like modeling software and manufacturing as well as email etiquette and project management skills.
“It’s all these kinds of skills which you can learn,” Yermakov said. “You’ll get a basic idea of it in your classes but it’s nothing like what, you’ll see working in here, like I’ve heard it from some of the other engineers, they’ll go out and work at their internships and whatnot and it’ll be like relatively easy compared to what they do here.”
Sappayani also said DFR is involved in various projects, ranging from rebuilding a 2019 vehicle with the freshman and sophomore team to venturing into the electric vehicle domain. For the team’s 2025 project, they will redesign every aspect of the vehicle including the chassis, suspension, power chain and aerodynamics. They are currently 90% finished with the chassis and are on track to complete the entire car by March 9.
“Everything that we’ve been working for in the past two or three years has been to make sure that we can develop a car year in, year out, not just reuse designs,” Sappayani said. “If we can get through this 2025 car, that’s a big hallmark for sustainability.
DFR does not limit its impact to UTD; they also share their passion for engineering and math with the community. Over the past summer, DFR members went to an event in South Dallas, hosted by TD Jakes, Goldman Sachs, and the Dallas Mavericks for middle school students to learn about STEM and have some high school students on the team who get early exposure to the stuff they do. DFR has also started working with JSOM capstone program allowing members of DFR to now complete their design or senior capstone projects with DFR, as well as being currently offered as a prescribed elective in the ECS school.
“I think, we’re proving to ourselves that we can handle all of these projects opening up all these opportunities for our students, so we hope to get more of that support as we go forward because there’s a lot of passion on the team,” Sappayani said.
Sappayani said in the world of Dallas Formula Racing, crossing the finish line is only the beginning, as students continuously design a new car year in and year out. Outside of building the car, Yermakov and Contreras emphasized the amount of time spent with the people inside DFR that help to foster and build lasting connections beyond college.
“As long as you’re interested and you’re passionate and you’re willing to learn and willing to work, everyone in here is more than happy to teach and more than happy to pass on their knowledge of everything they have learned from building this car,” Yermakov said. “So just don’t hesitate. Just go for it.”