17:00 PM

Switchin' Gears

Panther Racing celebrates its 35th anniversary with announcement of first-ever electric car

Much has changed since the first Panther Racing car cruised Oakland streets 35 years ago. 

One thing however hasn’t changed until now. For the first time in Panther Racing history, the team is retiring its internal combustion engine and designing an electric motor onward. It’s been a bittersweet learning curve for Lucas Ramsey, a mechanical engineering and materials science student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and leader of Panther Racing, the student-run car racing club also known as Pitt FSAE


“I’ve been building almost the same car now for four years,” Ramsey said. “I know all the ins and outs of this specific car – like all the Panther Racing members before me. I’m going to miss the smell of fuel the morning of a race.” 

Though the last, this year’s car may be one of the club’s best – against all odds. This team is the youngest and most diverse in Panther Racing history. The club – typically dominated by male students in Pitt’s Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Department – has seen skyrocketing numbers of women engineers and students studying electrical and computer engineering. 

It’s an important milestone that Ramsey has been yearning to reach since taking over, especially as they make the move toward an electric engine. 

“It really felt like we created a team of friends who pushed for the car to succeed,” Ramsey said. 

An email chain in the fast lane

Ramsey leveraged Panther Racing’s strong alumni network to help guide his young team on their first car. 

Excluding the engine, their electric car would still use the same assembly and design as former models. An FSAE car looks and performs wildly different from a car cruising down the street, and the engineers behind them must follow a significant set of rules for both compliance to the overarching organization and safety. Ramsey emphasized the need to perfect Panther Racing’s original design – especially considering industry trends centered on electric vehicles. The US Bureau for Labor Statistics found that the market for electric vehicles has been and is going to continue to grow.  

“Panther Racing isn’t just about racing,” Ramsey said. “We're also not one of the companies trying to pioneer new fuel types or sell a bunch of cars. We're just trying to set our team members up to succeed in the automotive industry or whatever they want to do after college using a fun project to build good habits while opening opportunities to practice technical and soft skills.” 

He said, from his experience, former teams could be reluctant to receive help. His team, made from mostly first- and second-year students, welcomed the guidance.

“Engineers can often get stuck in loops – arguing about different concepts or trying to make the best design instead of the best car,” Ramsey explained. “You can work on 3D modeling all day, but then you actually make the parts and they’re not so great. We were fortunate with a young group because we’ve been able to push them to the idea that you need to work with these parts to understand how the car actually works.” 

Panther Racing didn’t realize they were interacting with one of the Swanson School’s most interconnected and passionate groups of alumni. 

Jim Shaw, who earned his BS in mechanical engineering from Pitt in 2002, has always been a car enthusiast, so joining Panther Racing when he was a student was a no-brainer. 

Shaw is now managing director of Fastway Engineering, a company that creates engineering simulations. He said Panther Racing not only built his professional relationships as an entrepreneur, but the friendships he made while in and after the club have only grown since he graduated.  

Friendships in Panther Racing – like in all of engineering – can be quantified. In 2001, a core group of club members started an email chain discussing industry trends and family life and planning their eventual trip to 24 Hours of Le Mans, a historic sports car race in France. As of April 2023, the email chain has over 92,000 emails. 

“Panther Racing is an avenue to grow your network,” Shaw said. “I started my own business ten years ago, and I leveraged my connections made in Panther Racing to help it become what it is.” 



Shaw continued that all former members have incorporated what they learned in Panther Racing into their careers — from the automotive industry in Detroit to the Department of Defense. Emily Anthony – the first woman to captain Panther Racing, prominent email chain contributor, and 2016 graduate from the Swanson School – has continued to dedicate a portion of her life to Panther Racing. 

Anthony, who works as a systems engineer at FAAC Incorporated, founded and is lead event coordinator of the Pittsburgh Shootout, a one-day showcase of FSAE teams near Pittsburgh. She developed the race to provide more opportunities for students to practice for competitions in a low-key environment. 

“I saw a need for more racing opportunities in our area, so I decided to host one myself,” Anthony explained. “It’s something I would’ve wanted as a student and continuing to do FSAE in some way is personally important to me.” 

Both Shaw and Anthony are excited Panther Racing has hit the gas pedal on moving the club forward. Both credit Ramsey’s leadership – as he’s secured more sponsorships, support from Pitt’s Office of the Chancellor, and pushed for more visibility of the club at different campus events. 

Unlike other captains of the team before him, Ramsey has taken special interest in improving his team’s presentation and public speaking skills. In FSAE competition, a competitor has to answer questions about the car from the judge, which Ramsey said can be the most difficult part for younger students. To overcome these fears, he sends them to on-campus events to promote and explain the car as well as give presentations to students touring Benedum Hall. 

“Every few years, you get that one captain that takes the team to a new level,” Anthony said. “Lucas is that captain.” 

Off to the races 

It’s a cool, May morning with the smell of fuel permeating the air. 

Over 90 FSAE teams from across the country have gathered in Brooklyn, Michigan – a small town with fewer than 2,000 residents and about an hour and a half west of Detroit. Over the next four days, each team will compete to prove their car ranks supreme in design and usability. 

FSAE competitions aren’t traditional races. To even compete, the car has to complete a safety inspection after the teams’ arrival. It’s not until the second day that driving begins. Still yet, the car will go through another safety inspection, this time with a fuel, sound and tilt test. 

Raheel Farouk, a rising senior in electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School, is one the team’s drivers and its performance and data acquisition engineer. Before coming to Pitt, Farouk worked in a garage and was a motocross driver in Sri Lanka, his home country. He said he’s more nervous crashing the car than driving it. 

“I have full faith in my team that I’m safe,” Farouk said. “I know the blood, sweat and tears that went into building it.” 


Farouk can’t even begin to describe the adrenaline rush he feels when puts his foot on the pedal. 

“You don’t realize how fast the car is,” Farouk said. “Words just really can’t describe it.” 

Then comes the justification test in front of the judges – the most intimidating portion for young engineers. 

“This part of the competition is why I emphasize the need for our team to work on their presentation skills,” Ramsey explained. "Our members' discussions during this event can leave a lasting impression on the judges, some of whom will ask our members to interview for internships or jobs at whatever company they work at based on their combination of technical knowledge and soft skills shown during the discussions."

There are different driving tests throughout the competition, including acceleration, skid pad and autocross. Panther Racing finished just outside the top 20, a feat the team was incredibly proud of. The final day has a 22 kilometer run called “Endurance.” It’s the hardest category, with only about 25% of teams finishing it. 

Panther Racing was unfortunately not one of those teams in Brooklyn; Ramsey, however, was still proud of what the team accomplished. 

“For a team so young, this is a major milestone for Panther Racing,” Ramsey said. "We all feel validated as engineers and excited for going electric next year since we saw the extremely high potential for this team."