It Started with a Question

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Andy and Margaret Benedict were in the stands of the Michigan International Speedway outside Detroit, cheering on the University of Pittsburgh's Formula SAE team as its custom-built race car competed against those of 120 other collegiate crews.

Earlier in the day, the couple had noticed the trailer used to transport the Pitt race car. It was gray and featureless-a rental. Other teams had their own spiffy trailers emblazoned with school names and colors.

Later, as the Benedicts watched the cars whiz past on the racetrack, a thought crossed Margaret's mind, and she posed it to her husband: "Why doesn't Pitt have its own vehicle trailer?"

Andy Benedict didn't have a good answer to his wife's question. But as a mechanical engineer who had spent 35 years designing cars for the Ford Motor Company, he was in a unique position to help Pitt's team. And, as a proud alumnus and Pittsburgh native, he was happy to help.

The Benedicts

The engineer was already deeply impressed by the Panther Racing team. The group, hosted by the Swanson School of Engineering, brings Pitt gearheads together to participate in a student design competition organized by SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers). Each year, with help from faculty advisor and associate professor William Slaughter, around 50 student-volunteers design and build a Formula-style race car to compete against other teams in categories including fuel economy, cost and manufacturing analysis, and endurance. Preparing a car worthy of the Speedway, Benedict knows, takes dedication and months of hard work.

After a meeting with Slaughter and U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering Gerald Holder, Benedict (ENGR '71) decided to loan the team the 22-foot trailer he used to transport his Ford GT across the country during summer vacations. For a team that often spent up to $1,000 to rent a trailer, the loan freed valuable funds for use on tires, tools, and other expenses.   This wasn't the Benedicts' first gift to the team, or to the Swanson School: in 2007 they created the Benedict Engineering Legacy Fund with a gift of $10,000, providing scholarships to engineering students.

They also host a yearly dinner for the Formula SAE team prior to the annual Michigan race. Since the first dinner in 2009, the event has expanded from just 10 or so guests to around 80, including alumni, team members, and their parents.

The satisfaction of helping the team in a direct way ultimately moved the Benedicts to sign the trailer over to the team permanently.   "It feels like you're giving away a little baby," Benedict says of the gift. "But we knew it was very much appreciated, and we knew it was going to a good home."

"We liked how hardworking they are," he adds, "and they're in a career that's going to serve them well."

He would know. As a child visiting relatives in Michigan, Benedict toured a Ford plant and knew instantly that he wanted to work for the car company-a goal that informed his choice to attend Pitt, where, he says, "I knew I could get a top-flight engineering degree."

It was a wise choice: five days after graduation, Benedict loaded his Mustang with all of his belongings and headed to Detroit to begin his career with Ford.

At the first race after his and Margaret's gift to the team, Benedict examined the trailer and came away delighted. "I was happy to see it just full of all sorts of hardware," he says. "It's being used for exactly what it needs to be used for." Assisting a new generation of Pitt students on their road to success.

This story was originally published in Pitt Magazine. To view the original publication, click here.