Pete the Panther has some wheels.
Specifically, the 5,500-horsepower Florida Tech Jet Dragster, which can go from zero to 60 in less than a second and has a top speed of about 280 mph. If you don’t hit any red lights, that could get you from Melbourne, Florida, to New York City in four hours.
“It is a landlocked missile that is ready to go,” Larsen Motorsports cofounder Elaine Larsen, a champion hot rod driver, told Florida Today.
The dragster – which is painted in Florida Institute of Technology colors and bears the university’s name and the phrase, Where Adrenaline Meets Innovation – was unveiled as Florida Tech announced its affiliation with Larsen Motorsports (LMS). Students, university officials, company representatives, faculty members and school mascot Pete were among those attending the Jan. 29 ceremony on the Melbourne campus.
“We believe the addition of the Larsen Motorsports jet dragster to Florida Tech will pay educational rewards to our students for years to come,” university President Anthony J. Catanese said.
The Florida Tech dragster is scheduled to compete in about a dozen races this year from Florida to Canada as part of the International Hot Rod Association Nitro Jam Series. Jacksonville native Shea Holbrook, a member of Larsen Motorsports’ all-female team of drivers, will be at the wheel of the 27-foot-long, jet-engine vehicle (Sorry, Pete).
As part of the affiliation, Larsen and her husband, Chris, are relocating their company from Daytona Beach to a 27,000-square-foot facility at the Florida Tech Research and Development Center in Palm Bay. Students in disciplines ranging from aeronautics to business and engineering will have opportunities to participate in research and internships at the new LMS headquarters, which is near Florida Tech’s main campus in Melbourne.
“One of the reasons we approached Florida Tech is its commitment to hands-on, high-tech, real-world education, and that’s what we hope to help provide,” Chris Larsen said.
Of course, Florida Tech is no stranger to jet engines. The regionally accredited university was founded at the dawn of the Space Age to provide educational opportunities to scientists, engineers and technicians working for the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at nearby Cape Canaveral.
Six decades later, Florida Tech is world renowned for its degree programs and research in areas such as science, aeronautics and engineering. The university’s more than 60,000 alumni include several space shuttle astronauts and an experiment designed by Florida Tech students and researchers is being conducted aboard the International Space Station. Additionally, Florida Tech recently launched an industry-first Bachelor of Arts in Aviation Management degree offered 100% online.
“We have always done aerospace and space propulsion, but this is our first big foray into the world of auto racing,” Florida Tech Executive Vice President T. Dwayne McCay told Florida Today.
“It is bridging a gap, providing much more experience for our students and when they graduate makes them that much more employable,” McCay said.