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Where Do Our Student-Built Spec Engines Go?

Sep 20, 2019 ·

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Ever wondered what goes into building the engines that power today’s race cars?

At NASCAR Technical Institute, students are able to experience this firsthand. Those who have a passion for racing and want to learn more about engine building can take a spec engine course — an exclusive opportunity for NASCAR Tech’s top students to build their very own engine.11

This one-of-a-kind course provides students with the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience, and with NASCAR Tech’s industry relationships, can kick start their career in the racing industry.24 Keep reading to learn all about the course, instructor Darrell Hoffman and where these student-built spec engines go.

About UTI’s Spec Engine Course

NASCAR Tech’s spec engine course was developed by NASCAR to create quality among the race teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. The engine parts are manufactured and race teams buy the spec engine as a kit. There is only a select number of assemblers that are permitted to build these engines, NASCAR Tech being one of them.

The spec engine program was created to give honor students the ability to go into the spec engine lab and build the engines that compete in the K&N series. This course is reserved for top students — to be considered, they must have a minimum of a 3.8 GPA and 98% professionalism and attendance score.

Taking the spec engine course is a goal many students aim for, as it provides a way to gain valuable hands-on experience and make themselves available for career opportunities. According to John Dodson, UTI’s VP of Business Alliance, “When we are contacted by the race teams looking for a new intern or graduate to work in their engine program, it’s easy to say this is the first place we look. These students have done everything they could to put themselves in a position to get these jobs.”5

John has a successful career in NASCAR racing himself — before coming to UTI, he was a race car builder. When he retired, he designed the NASCAR program and has been providing opportunities for students interested in the industry ever since. “At NASCAR Tech, we’re all racers at heart,” he says.

One of the most exciting aspects of this course is the opportunity it provides for students to track the performance of the engines they build. Students in the program build the actual engines that compete out on the track — and if their engine wins a race or qualifies in a top spot, they can be a part of the success. This is an amazing way for students to kick start their career, and they may be able to add a win to their record before they even graduate!

Meet Spec Engine Instructor Darrell Hoffman

Darrell Hoffman is leading the charge as NASCAR Tech’s spec engine instructor. As a champion engine builder himself, he brings valuable expertise and real-world experience to the class.

Darrell has been a dirt racer since he was just five years old and was a regular at the local dirt tracks in the St. Louis area. At the age of 19, he decided he wanted to take racing more seriously and built his first engine for himself. He started working at a small engine shop as a full-time engine builder and the rest is history. 

After years of building engines and even owning his own business, Darrell decided he wanted to go into NASCAR racing, and fell in love with it. Along the way, he had the opportunity to mentor high school students on engine assembly and discovered he had a passion for teaching. This led him to his current role as spec engine instructor at NASCAR Tech, where he passes on his knowledge and passion for the industry to students every day. 

“I feel like it’s the best job in the building,” Darrell says. His favorite part about teaching is being able to see the excitement in his students as they pursue careers in racing — the same excitement he had when he was just starting out.

In the spec engine course, Darrell focuses on ensuring each student has the opportunity to gain hands-on experience. “I make sure that every student who comes through here has at least one engine that they can keep track of and see how it does,” he says. 

As someone who has been on the road with racing teams, Darrell is able to teach his students exactly what employers look for. Darrell is regularly contacted by companies looking to hire graduates, and his students are the first to know. “When the race teams call, I’m the one they call because they know the students I have are the ones that are serious about doing it and come here, work hard and keep their grades up,” he shares.

According to Darrell, the most important quality to have when pursuing a career in this industry is passion. He says, “You have to be passionate and love this because you’re going to have to work hard. If you have the passion, you don’t pay attention to the work, because you just love racing.”

Where Do These Student-Built Spec Engines Go?

NASCAR Tech students aren’t only building engines for the NASCAR spec engine program. Champions like Nick Hoffman, who has won 22 races this year and Burt Myers, who won 3 consecutive championships at Bowman Gray have won races with student-built engines. Nick’s wins lock him into the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds Championship, making NASCAR Tech the UMP Modifieds championship engine builder. Overall, NASCAR Tech has had 30 wins, 8 poles and 64 top ten finishes just this year!

“It’s the best untold story in NASCAR and motorsports,” John says. Since the program’s start in 2009, students have accomplished incredible things in the spec engine course and beyond. In 2012, a student-built engine won the K&N championship with NASCAR driver Kyle Larson, and NASCAR Tech students are eager to win another.

Additionally, NASCAR Tech’s involvement with the industry has led to sponsorship. Anywhere you see a NASCAR spec engine being run, you’ll see NASCAR Tech logos on the race cars. According to John, “We like being involved with the grass roots, as this is where many of our students come from.” 

Overall, the spec engine course benefits both students and racers alike. It gives students an inside look at this exciting industry while providing today’s race teams with engines that fuel their success.

Train for an Exciting Future at NASCAR Tech

From engines, welding and CNC machining to pit crew essentials and aerodynamics, you can gain the skills used by automotive technicians and racing teams at NASCAR Technical Institute. To learn more, request information today.

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1) NASCAR Technical Institute is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

5) UTI programs prepare graduates for careers in industries using the provided training, primarily as automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. Some UTI graduates get jobs within their field of study in positions other than as a technician, such as: parts associate, service writer, fabricator, paint and paint prep, and shop owner/operator. UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

11) See program details for eligibility requirements and conditions that may apply.

24) NASCAR Technical Institute prepares graduates to work as entry-level automotive service technicians. Some graduates who take NASCAR-specific electives also may have job opportunities in racing-related industries. NASCAR Tech is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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