Racing, engineering are natural fit for scientist

By Joe Bauman
Deseret News
March 20, 2002

Almost five decades ago Ralph Haycock was intimately acquainted with another sort of guided missile. Wednesday, the scientist at Utah State University was being honored for his work at the Space Dynamics Laboratory, but his experience with stock car racing

Haycock, 66, a retired engineering professor who continues to teach, was to receive a distinguished service award on Wednesday for 40 years of service to USU. Also being recognized during the banquet at the Taggart Student Center were other employees of the Space Dynamics Laboratory and the USU Research Foundation.
"We express our appreciation to all of our employees for their commitment and diligence," said Dave Norton, the chief executive officer of the research foundation. The foundation and the laboratory have 390 employees, including full-time professionals and students.

Haycock joined the Upper Air Research Laboratory, a group that later became the Space Dynamics Lab, in 1972. But he already was well versed in the lessons of speed and precision engineering.
"I started in high school by racing cars on the Bonneville Salt Flats," says Haycock. "Then I used my automotive machine shop to finance my education."

Haycock may have held a world record for a roadster on the Salt Flats – but only for a moment.
He was racing a Model A roadster "that was all cut down, and then I had a Studebaker V-8 engine in it," he said. "It was all souped up."

That was 1954 or '55, the last year he raced on the Salt Flats. He may have grabbed the world record for about one lap. "Then some guy from California pushed it way above from where where I was.

"If I held the record, it was only between races," he says. "It was fun, but it didn't last very long."

By the time he was in his early 20s and married, Haycock had earned enough money in his Sugar House automotive machine shop to finance his education. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Utah, then his doctorate at USU.

Through the years he has taught a slew of courses, from automated manufacturing, engineering mechanics, internal combustion engines and the theory of vibrations, to electromagnetic systems design. He served as chief of the manufacturing program in USU's mechanical engineering department.

According to the university, Haycock was principal investigator in developing a technique to eliminate thermal oscillations in cryogenic transfer plumbing systems. He developed a remote-controlled, motor-driven cryogenic valve for super-cold fluids used in spaceflight.

It is the only valve that NASA and the European Space Agency have qualified for certain space applications, said Space Dynamics Lab spokeswoman Trina Paskett.

Meanwhile, Haycock also served as mayor of Hyrum, Cache County.

Today he continues his keen interest in both racing and mechanical engineering. He is the adviser to USU students in the "Mini-Baja Competition" and the organizer for the event, which USU will host April 25-27.

In the competition, students from about 75 universities build and design small off-road vehicle prototypes and race them on a rugged course.

"The whole purpose of the Mini-Baja is to give the students a real, live engineering problem to solve," he said. They use 10-horsepower motors, around which they build the vehicle, including suspension system, drive train and strong encircling cage to protect the driver in case of a rollover. Students must raise the money for their entries themselves.

"We have over 100 cars that are registered to date," Haycock said in a telephone interview from his office at USU, Logan.

Allan Steed, head of the Space Dynamics Lab, said that because of his background as a mechanic, Haycock has great insight into the working of mechanical systems. He is able to fix just about anything.

"He is an excellent mechanic and is truly an engineer's engineer," Steed said in a written comment.

Haycock thinks a wrench-and-baling-wire background like his is valuable to engineering students. Young men and women who attend USU after working to keep the family farm equipment going "always make really, really good engineers," he said.

Although officially retired as of June 30, 2000, he intends to continue teaching for a few more years.

"I enjoy working with the young students," Haycock said. "That's very gratifying to me."