Danielle Shepherd '14

Danielle Shepherd '14

Data Acquisition Specialist, KVSH Racing
Major at Wooster: Mathematics & Physics

Danielle Shepherd was just seven years old when she attended her first IndyCar race with her family. Apparently the roar of 700 horsepower engines and the sight of sleek, low-slung cars screaming around a track at speeds in excess of 200 mph made quite an impression, because by the time she arrived at Wooster, her career goal was to work for an auto racing team.

Today, thanks to an APEX Fellowship, the support of her faculty mentors in the math department, and a Wooster alum who helped her make connections in the industry, that dream is a reality. Danielle is a data acquisition specialist with KVSH Racing, an IndyCar team based in Indianapolis, Ind. Their driver, Sebastien Bourdais, is not only a four-time IndyCar champion, but the only driver in history to win four consecutive titles, from 2004 to 2007. Danielle is one of just three women working as engineers in the entire 22-car series.

An IndyCar can cost as much as $3 million, and each one is loaded with electronics that gather data about its performance while on the track. Danielle is responsible for making sure all those sensors, and the telemetry that feeds information from them in real time to computer screens in the crew chief’s station on pit road, function flawlessly during a race that can last two to three hours. She also is responsible for post-race analysis of all the data.

During race season, which runs from April through September, she is on the road roughly every other week to a different race: 16 in all this past season, from Long Beach, Cal., to Watkins Glen, N.Y., Texas to Toronto. Typically the team arrives at the track on Thursday, practices (and analyzes data) on Friday, practices again and qualifies on Saturday. Sunday is race day, then Monday it’s back to Indianapolis to work on the car in the shop and get ready to do it all again.

The chance to do independent research with the close support of a faculty mentor was what drew Danielle to Wooster, and she plunged right in, completing a Sophomore Research Program project on knot theory with Professors John Ramsay and Jen Bowen of the math department, then an Applied Methods Research Experience (AMRE) consulting project.

The summer following her junior year, Danielle landed an APEX Fellowship to work with a mathematics professor at Davidson College who was doing some applied research for Michael Waltrip Racing. The experience reconfirmed her desire to work in the racing industry.

Back in Wooster for her senior year, Danielle did her I.S. on computational fluid dynamics, writing a computer simulation to model fluid flow around a circular object. “IS teaches you problem solving,” she says, “and how to stand on your own. The professors are there to help, but they’re not going to hold your hand all the time.”

Following graduation in May 2014, Danielle landed a job with Kent Displays, but she stayed in touch with Chris Abele ’02, an engineer with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who helped her make connections in the racing field and alerted her to open positions. A bit less than a year later, she joined KVSH Racing.

“My goal was turned into reality with your help, the help of the entire math department, and through the opportunities provided by APEX,” Danielle wrote to Ramsay earlier this year. “Thank you for everything you did for me during my time at Wooster.” 

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