For Ken Ruble, what circulates, comes back

LAS CRUCES – His youth in his father’s garage inspired Ken Ruble’s interest in mechanical things. This interest led him to his passion for racing and ultimately to a degree in mechanical engineering. Ruble, now the Operations Director of the Advanced Innovation Workshop at NMSU’s Aggie College of Engineering, has conveyed this inspiration to a multitude of students over the past 12 years.

Ruble competed in motocross races when he graduated from high school, switched to drag racing, and then to circular track racing. He started with a kit car and then started building chassis of his own design. Several years later, marriage and family took priority. He sold his race cars, bought tractors and a property in Chaparral, New Mexico, where he built a house and a store.

“Once I stopped running, I couldn’t go back to a race track, not even to watch a race.” And he didn’t for 20 years. “I knew the urge would be too strong and I was trying to focus on other things in my life,” Ruble said.

During this time, he worked at Lockheed on the White Sands Missile Range, running a fabrication shop to make any special parts needed. “I flew the remote control helicopters on the firing range. When I say remote control, they were full-size helicopters – UH1s and AH1s, mostly used as targets for missile systems.

After receiving several awards from Lockheed for the innovations he made, Ruble’s supervisor urged him to get an engineering degree with the help of their education reimbursement program. But part-time evening school has only taken ruble so far, and he quit his job to pursue his studies in mechanical engineering full-time at NMSU.

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While a student, Ruble participated in Mini Baja, an international student design competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers International through which teams of students design and build small cars to navigate rigorous off-road tracks. .

Ruble graduated in 2008 and was hired by the NMSU to design and manufacture a reduced-gravity simulator for astronaut training under a grant from the National Science Foundation. After moving from student to employee, he became a Mini Baja advisor, preparing NMSU students for the annual four-day competition for the past 12 years. One of the most popular student organizations on campus, Mini Baja gave Ruble the opportunity to share his expertise and passion. Ruble even opened his workshop so that students could work on their cars because the university workshop did not have the necessary tools at the time.

But the ruble was not the only source of inspiration. It was a student who pushed Ruble to end his 20-year hiatus from racing.

“While working on my degree, I studied with a student named Melissa Gorham. She ran the circuit and kept asking me to go watch her run. I ran with her dad in the 80s. She kept bugging me and I said, ‘No I can’t do that. I can not do it.

Ruble finally gave in and took to the track every weekend that year. The following year he began to drive his own car. Soon the students were helping him with his car. A student, Leonardo Borrego, now an engineer at Honda, helped him every weekend and indeed drove several times. Then, after Borrego graduated and left town, he invited Gorham to drive his car.

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“She drove it and won the qualifying race and the main race – it was her first time in the race car. She drove it for the rest of the season and she did very well. I said if you commit to being here every weekend next year I promise you will have a safe and reliable car and we will win the points championship and that is exactly what we did next season with her in the car – we won the points championship that year. Gorham switched to sprint auto racing the following year.

But another student wanted his chance at the wheel. Drew Cassidy joined Mini Baja in the hopes it will cheer her up and motivate her after a difficult time in her life.

“When I first met Drew, she had two jobs, attended school full time, and looked after her father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and later died,” said declared Ruble.

In her second year as a Mini Baja member, Drew Cassidy was elected group president and did all of the fundraising for that year’s contest. Subsequently, she expressed her desire to drive and she drove the handling and endurance race in the competition the following year.

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Cassidy was addicted. She also wanted to try her hand at a real racing car. Mini Baja was Cassidy’s first experience driving on a competitive circuit, but with the mentorship and coaching from Ruble, she had her chance.

“She has the natural ability and the willingness to learn,” Ruble said. “The real story is how Drew overcame tough times to pursue his dream of being an engineer and – more recently – of being a race car driver.”

She started out in a mini sprint car, a miniature version of an open-wheel racing vehicle that looks like a full-size sprint car. She didn’t win a single race that year, but ranked high enough every weekend to win the points championship for the season.

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“Since then Drew has been my full time driver for all of my racing cars,” Ruble said. “We have four race cars. We have a mini-sprint, we have a salvage car that she drove two years ago, we have a legendary car that she currently drives and we have a super truck that we’re going to put her in the year. next.

Cassidy graduated in mechanical engineering and is now working as a test engineer at NASA’s White Sands test site. Gorham graduated as an industrial engineer and owns several businesses in Las Cruces.

“I meet students all the time on the race track. We have a lot of students racing at Vado Speedway Park. I would like more students to participate in the race. Running is the reason I wanted to get an engineering degree and NMSU is the reason I got involved in racing again, ”he said. “I have the best job on campus running the student project center. “

Linda Fresques writes for Marketing and Communications at New Mexico State University and can be contacted at 575-646-7416 or by email at [email protected]

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