AFTER/DRIVE: Casey Putsch's Genius Garage Is Driving Big Opportunities for Young Engineers

Getting real-world experience in the automotive realm without a job? Casey Putsch has just the thing for that.

The “graduate’s paradox” has long haunted those kicking off their professional lives: How to get a job without experience, and how to get experience without a job. Internships are part of that game, but how many interns spend more time making coffee and picking up up their boss’s dry cleaning than getting real-world experience? Loads. That’s where Genius Garage comes in, at least in the transportation realm.

You could call the Bowling Green, Ohio-based program “cutting-edge,” but who has time for more words on a page? Students at Genius Garage, largely from mechanical engineering and other technical and creative majors, are intent on getting their hands dirty in the most demanding corners of the technical world: motorsports, aerospace, and design.

The force at the heart of Genius Garage is Casey Putsch, a long-time vintage racer who once built a replica of the Batmobile (the Michael Keaton / Tim Burton version) powered by a turboshaft engine. Putsch is also the owner of Putsch Racing, which prepares vintage race cars (including several Lola T70s) for customers. As you’ll hear on today’s episode of AFTER/DRIVE, Putsch started out by mentoring students at OSU, and was inspired to create Genius Garage to fill in the yawning experience gap between college and the real world.

Genius Garage

Genius Garage

During six-month terms that span from the spring through racing season, students maintain a garage of real race cars of varying complexity: a 800-plus-hp Hogan Reynard Champ Car from the late 1990s once raced by Dario Franchitti, a 680-hp March/Bennett WSC prototype of the same vintage, a 700-hp IMSA GTO Corvette from the '80s, a 700-hp John Greenwood Corvette GT car from the '70s, and a 1976 Ferrari 308 Vetroresina that once competed in IMSA. Students maintain and prep the cars for vintage-racing events like the Brickyard Invitational at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as performing the entire range of racing-team duties from engineering replacement parts, to managing support logistics, to handling media and public relations. And Genius Garage doesn't just help automotive engineers in waiting. There's also the new aerospace program; in its inaugural year, it led students through the process of building a full-scale replica of a World War One-era Sopwith Camel biplane. 

A team of professional volunteers, ranging from corporate CEOs to fighter pilots to racing engineers to entrepreneurs, mentor students in specific areas of focus, while field trips to NASA, Pratt & Miller Racing, and other relevant facilities expose students to other opportunities in the field. And their work is already showing results. The 501(c)3 organization has already proven its worth for bridging the gap between academia and the workplace, with former Genius Garage students going on to to jobs at Tesla, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, the Dana Corporation, and other technical firms.