When Matt Merkle began his Electrical Engineering studies at Virginia Tech, he wanted to join a vehicle competition but was concerned he didn’t have the mechanical experience needed. Then he heard about a new competition on campus aiming to build a hybrid electric car.
Merkle, Senior Engineer for Toyota Racing Development (TRD), became a founding member of the Virginia Tech Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT). He started out working on battery back design, which involved researching various battery chemistries, ordering testing samples and eventually assembling the pack.
“Having to implement budgets and timelines was key to being successful in the competitions, but it was also a great introduction to what would be expected of me in a full-time engineering job,” Merkle said. “Teamwork, leadership, and communication are but a few of the very important skills that I developed during my years participating in advanced vehicle technology competitions (AVTC).”
His work and willingness to volunteer for additional projects led to his position as co-team leader for the 1996 and 1997 FutureCar Challenge, as well as the 1997 Propane Vehicle Challenge.
Merkle still remembers winning first place overall in the 1996 FutureCar Challenge.
“The acceleration performance of our series hybrid drivetrain was quite remarkable,” he says.
But Merkle earned more than a first place win through his participation. He also earned his first job. A former AVTC participant, Bill Stinnett, notified him of opportunities at Goodyear Technical Center, leading to his first position after graduation.
Today, he works at TRD running the MTS K&C test rig, allowing him to quantify the properties of a vehicle’s suspension. He works directly with a team from three NASCAR series, including the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Insurance Series and the Sprint Cup Series. Teams bring race cars to test and measure, focusing on changing different parts or configurations to determine their impact on vehicle handling.