ECU engineering student enjoys internship with one of NASCAR’s top teams

Colin Foley is on the fast track to a career in engineering.

The East Carolina University sophomore from New London spent this past summer and part of his winter break interning with Richard Childress Racing (RCR), one of NASCAR’s most successful racing teams.

Colin Foley is shown at Richard Childress Racing, where he worked on the chassis of race cars as an intern. (Contributed photo)

“Every time I walked through the door, I would learn something, no matter what it was,” Foley said. “I gained so much experience so fast. By my second month working there, I felt like I had been there a year just because of how many things you’re constantly absorbing and constantly learning.”

Foley worked at the team’s shop in Welcome, near Winston-Salem. He learned of the internship through a family friend.

“I thought that it was the best opportunity in the entire world,” Foley said. “I never considered working in motorsports. It wasn’t at the top of my head. But when he told me about it, I knew I had to pursue it.”

Foley worked mainly with the racing team’s Xfinity series cars, using machinery and math to measure the chassis.

“You have to measure every single point to make sure that it meets NASCAR specifications, and if it doesn’t, you have to send it back to get it fixed,” Foley said. “It’s a whole process. NASCAR is very tight with their specifications.”

How tight?

“We were working on this one car, and we were off by less than half of the thickness of your fingernail in a certain spot, but it’s got to be right,” he said.

Foley saw his work racing on the track each week and said he would pay close attention to this weekend’s Daytona 500.

“I’d go home and watch the race on Saturday or Sunday, and I would think, ‘Oh, I touched that. I worked on that,’” he said. “That was really cool.”

Of course, what’s racing without the occasional wreck?

“If one crashed, I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to see that on Monday,’” Foley said.

He said he learned a lot about engineering, machinery and precision during his internship. However, Foley said he found real value in the team’s focus on “the little things.” He said his biggest lesson came when he forgot to put the quantity needed on a part order.

A shop at Richard Childress Racing where Colin Foley interned. (Contributed photo)

“I will never forget to do that again,” he said. “Little stuff like that really adds up because you really see the team aspect of work. If I mess something up, there is somebody else in a different building looking at it and sending it back, and that delays everything. You realize you’re trying to eliminate all those things.”

Still, he said, the team put a lot of trust in him, especially considering he was an intern.

“It gave me a great feeling that they put a lot of trust in me, and if I had any questions, they would answer them, but other times they would ask me what I would do,” he said. “It was awesome.”

Foley said he saw firsthand how what he’s learned in his engineering classes — such as communication, file management and 3D modeling — is important with RCR.

“Being able to see that, being able to see the things that you’ve learned be useful in your job, that is the best moment. It’s a good motivator,” Foley said.

He was also motivated by those with whom he worked.

“It’s still work, but everyone was smiling all the time, and everyone was just happy working on stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of passion for the sport, and the people who work there have a lot of passion for it, which leads to a great work environment.”

Foley said he became interested in engineering through a STEM program when he was in the fourth grade. Though he originally thought of following in his brother’s footsteps and becoming a business major at ECU, he decided on engineering, with a concentration in mechanical engineering.

Foley appreciates the opportunity Richard Childress Racing provided, saying he believes it is just the first step in a long career in engineering.

“The thing I tell people is you’ve got to knock on those doors or else they’re not going to open,” he said. “But once that one door opens, it’s the key to every other door that you’ve been trying to open.”

Colin Foley said he learned the importance of precision and teamwork during his internship with Richard Childress Racing. (Photo by Rhett Butler)