Elmhurst College: Student’s Fast Track to Success Runs Through Elmhurst

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Student’s Fast Track to Success Runs Through Elmhurst

College life has been pedal to the metal for Elmhurst senior Marina Anderson.

She expects to graduate in February, one semester early, with dual majors in supply chain management and economics. But rather than cruising through her senior year, Anderson has been running at full throttle, not only carrying a full academic load at Elmhurst but also working full time as a buyer for a manufacturing company.

That packed schedule is helping Anderson to create something few college students can even contemplate—her dream job. For Anderson, that’s to become a professional drag racer, which means building and racing her own dragster, as well as establishing the business that will enable her to do it.

“I’m the owner, driver, manager, everything,” Anderson says about the Anderson Family Dragster, a 4,000-horsepower racecar and business enterprise she has been building from scratch with help from family and friends. 

She works on the dragster on Saturdays, at a shop in Maple Park, Illinois. When it’s done, she’ll be able to rocket down a quarter-mile track in 5.3 seconds, and to reach speeds of up to 280 m.p.h.

Putting the car together is only the first of several major tasks she’ll have to complete to get her business up and running. She’ll also have to get the car up to speed in testing, and to upgrade her National Hot Rod Association license to the high-speed class the car will compete in, A/Fuel.

Just as important, she will need to find sponsors to help cover the costs of racing and the thousands of dollars that already have gone into the project. In drag racing, as in other motorsports, the purses even from winning races don’t pay all the bills.

“It’s a really expensive sport, and we have to find marketing partners so we can keep going and do what we love, as well as help someone else get their name out there,” she said on a recent Saturday at the shop, where she was attaching aluminum body panels to the racecar’s tubular steel frame, which she fashioned herself.  “I could represent a company in a good way, by being a woman that followed her dreams into a sport that’s mostly men. I worked really hard to get where I am.”

Her studies at Elmhurst College have been helping her get where she wants to go.

While taking the business management and marketing classes that are part of Elmhurst’s core business curriculum, Anderson realized that she needed to write a marketing proposal to present to potential sponsors. After drafting the sponsorship proposal, she sought out one of her teachers, Associate Professor Mark (Kelly) Cunningham, for help honing her message into a professional pitch.

Cunningham was stunned to learn the scope of her project. “She just wanted me to look at it, and in talking to her I realized this was a vision and dream of hers,” he said. “I was just amazed at how it all came about.”

He also was impressed with her single-mindedness. “She’s an excellent student, but she’s not one to talk about this other career, drag racing. I never knew about it until she asked my advice on the sponsorship plan. In the classroom, you’d be surprised how many people probably don’t know about this other career that she has. That’s just her personality: She is fairly modest yet very determined at what she wants to do.”

Then there was Anderson’s marketing proposal, an undertaking that Cunningham usually requires of his MBA candidates as part of a semester-long project. Anderson tackled it all on her own, as a matter of course. “It was not required of any class,” Cunningham noted. “It was just the next step in her career.”

Anderson’s connections at Elmhurst also led to her current job, as a buyer at Cosco Industries in Harwood Heights. The job began as a summer internship, which came about through Brian Anderson (no relation), vice president of operations at Cosco and also an adjunct lecturer at Elmhurst who taught one of Marina Anderson’s supply chain management classes.

“It’s good to talk to the professors because they have a lot of connections,” Marina Anderson said. “It’s nice that Elmhurst has small classes, because then they get to know you. They’re valuable resources and very willing to help you.”

Taking an opportunity and running with it is nothing new for Anderson. She knew from an early age that she liked to go fast, first in an electric go-kart she started driving when she was 5, and a few years later when she started riding dirt bikes, small motorcycles designed for unpaved trails.

She began frequenting racetracks as a youngster, tagging along with her father, Scott, who worked for many years as a crew chief on a drag race team.

“I just fell in love with it, and at age 13 I decided I wanted to do it myself. It felt right to me. I tried dance when I was little, and I tried guitar; none of it felt right,” she said.

Her father has supported her dream of becoming a racecar driver. “He just made me wait until I was old enough to drive a big racecar, and then we started looking at our options,” she said.

As a teenager, Anderson began working with her father on a race team and took automotive classes at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park. As a junior, she placed fourth in the state SkillsUSA  competition for automotive service technology. She also worked part time as a mechanic in Elmhurst College’s vehicle maintenance department. 

But she didn’t want a career as a mechanic, and by the time she enrolled at Elmhurst, she had her sights set on supply chain management because it incorporates her interests in math, economics and engineering. It also is helping her to manage her racing business.

“There’s a lot of purchasing involved. It’s all about finding the right parts at the right price,” she said. “It’s a really specialized field, so it’s hard to get the right price on things sometimes. You’re also making relationships with people and negotiating prices.”

As much as she loves drag racing, for the time being she will continue to work full time as a buyer and save racing for weekends.

“I can have both careers until something comes along where I could make racing full time, because that’s my dream, that’s what I want to do,” she said.

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