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Alter Egos: Craig Keast/Jerry Savitsky

  Cover Story  

Craig Keast, assistant director of development
I restore old Volkswagens. I tear them down and make sure they're sound mechanically, and then I rebuild them piece-by-piece. I sold my first project, but still drive the second one I did, which is the 1968 Beetle below (at left is my son with an earlier project). She has won many trophies at car shows. My current project is a VW Karmann Ghia coupe.

I have enjoyed working on and customizing cars since I was able to drive. My father taught me some basics and he still teaches me from time to time. About 17 years ago, I bought my first VW Beetle and enjoyed restoring it so much it has become a passion. VWs are so simple yet amazingly well-engineered. There is also a tremendous aftermarket of parts available.

I do it because it can be quite challenging. Despite the simplicity of VWs, you can run into some huge problems when tearing down and rebuilding a 40-year-old car. I do it also for the sense of accomplishment. I enjoy the compliments I receive and I simply love driving them. I find that most people who enjoy the hobby of restoring and/or owning old VWs are great fun to be around. The Beetle in particular has a storied history and has touched the lives of so many people over the past 60-plus years.

Jerry Savitsky, professor of economics
I am the crew chief on a late model stock car that races weekly at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids and occasionally at other tracks. During the season, my main responsibilities at the shop include (1) coordinating work schedules and making sure everything on the weekly checklist gets done, (2) doing weekly maintenance, such as checking every single nut and bolt on the car, checking all fluids, bleeding brakes, charging batteries, and so on, (3) making changes to the chassis (springs, shocks, weight distribution, tire stagger) to address handling problems we might have had in the previous week's race, and (4) keeping detailed records about all chassis adjustments and the history of our tires. On race nights, my main job is to adjust the chassis setup as needed and to make sure the car is ready to go when it's our turn to race. It's also my job to keep the driver calm, but I usually have very little success in this area.

I've been a fan of auto racing since I was a kid, but until about five years ago, I had never even seen a race car up close. My next-door neighbor, Jim Ross, raced at Hawkeye Downs and was so short of help in 1997 that he asked me. At first, I just kept chassis and tire notes, did a lot of cleaning, and generally got in everybody's way. But over time I started doing more and more work on the car. I wish I could be as patient with my students as my race car teachers have been with me. I think I've smashed the fingers of all my teammates at least once.

Being a typical college professor, I decided that I was going to do some research. I read a variety of books on chassis theory. I searched the Internet. I peppered the guy who built our car with a non-stop stream of questions that would put to shame the multi-part exam questions I ask in my microeconomics theory courses. And, to my continuing amazement, the driver was willing to try just about any chassis setup changes I suggested. I'm not a chassis expert by any means. But I am proud of what I've been able to contribute. We finished in the top 10 in points in 2000 and 2001 after getting off to terrible starts both years; we are competitive with teams that have much larger budgets, more experience, and newer equipment; we even managed to win our first late model feature race in 2001 (on a Friday the 13th!).

My involvement with auto racing provides a distinct and rather unusual break from my professional life at Cornell. I get a chance to skin my knuckles and get grease under my fingernails. I get a chance to laugh and be laughed at when I have parts left over after I've finished putting something together. I get a chance to hang around with teammates who don't care about my successes, failures, and frustrations in the classroom. But they do get a kick out of calling me "Dr. J."

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