AMHERST, Mass. – Despite tornado warnings and torrential rain that temporarily forced her car off the track, Stacia Marcelynas led the University of Massachusetts Amherst Supermileage Team to an eighth-place finish in the 2008 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Supermileage Competition.
Her vehicle, nicknamed Homewrecker, racked up an impressive 683 miles per gallon at the Eaton Corporation proving grounds in Marshall, Michigan, finishing in the top 25 percent of a field of 35 teams from around the world at the June 5-6 event.
Beyond her driving skills, Marcelynas was chosen to drive Homewrecker because of an attribute that can’t be learned. “Stacia is the only one on the team small enough to fit into the vehicle,” says David Schmidt, faculty advisor for the supermileage team and a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering.
Marcelynas, who is living in Sudbury, also drove Homewrecker at last year’s SAE competition, but with a much more alarming outcome. As she was steering the vehicle around the three-quarter-mile oval track, she felt and heard a loud clunk against the wafer-thin firewall located right behind her crash helmet. That’s when her heart almost stopped. Then her vehicle actually did. That sickening clank meant that her crankshaft had broken.
“The crankshaft began vibrating really badly,” says Marcelynas. “It began deforming and the cross-sectional area went from a circle to an oblong shape. So it broke, made a very loud noise and the chain smacked the back of the firewall behind my head. That firewall is only a 32nd of an inch thick. Thankfully, I was wearing this huge helmet.”
Her pit crew installed a new crankshaft and engine within half-an-hour, but Homewrecker finished out of the money. In preparation for the 2008 supermileage competition, Marcelynas and her teammates were determined to do better. They designed a new crankshaft. Marcelynas helped the “Chassis Team” replace the flimsy chassis from last year, made out of balsawood covered with carbon fiber, with a new one made from sturdier, ultra-light aluminum. The students also installed new wheels that revolutionized the coasting ability of Homewrecker. Obviously, whatever they did worked.
Marcelynas is a poster woman for high achievers. She was one of 25 applicants nationwide to receive an SAE Leadership Development Award for 2008. She’s president of the UMass Amherst chapter of the SAE, and treasurer of Pi Tau Sigma, the mechanical engineering honor society. She’s served two stints for the Raytheon Company as a materials mechanical test lab engineer intern and a mechanical design engineer intern.
Because of all her accomplishments in the UMass Amherst College of Engineering, Marcelynas has a prestigious position lined up after graduation at GE Aviation in Lynn, creating jet engines. She has been accepted into the highly selective Edison Engineering Development Program.
“I’ll be an engineer/technician in an advanced educational program in which I’ll design jet engines at GE and also study for four years,” says Marcelynas. “In that time I’ll get my master’s degree and take advanced courses on what I’m designing.”
The future looks bright for Marcelynas, but maybe less exciting than her days as the anti-Grand-Prix-driver, coasting along at 10 mph and setting eye-popping supermileage standards in a car known as Homewrecker.