Passion for Bullet takes Cooke from undergrad to assistant director

Posted: December 21, 2018

David Cooke
David Cooke
The first week David Cooke began as an undergrad at The Ohio State University, the Buckeye Bullet was in Bonneville, setting a US. landspeed record of 314.958 mph. Little did he know that landspeed vehicle would soon play a huge role in not only his college experience, but his engineering career. 

With a passion for cars and an interest in the automotive industry, Cooke, a mechanical engineering student in the honors program found the Formula Buckeye team at a engineering student involvement fair. He spent a few months with that team, but soon realized his interest was in a different vehicle, the Buckeye Bullet. 

After learning about the record setting vehicle he joined the team and spent hours each week in the motorsports garage where he also became familiar with the Center for Automotive Research (CAR).

Following his freshman year, Cooke realized that CAR was the place he wanted to spend his time and worked hard to find a way to stay for the summer. While he was a bit young to head straight for funded research work, Director Giorgio Rizzoni found a place for him working as an assistant in the front office at CAR where he stayed part time for the next two years.

“It was a really cool job because I got to quickly understand how the center worked and what types of activities the researchers were engaged in,” said Cooke. “Giorgio would invite me into presentations and thesis defenses and I was exposed to lots of projects that most people don’t see until further along in their academic career, if ever.”

Working as an administrative assistant for CAR lead Cooke to gain an in-depth understanding of how the center, and Ohio State as a whole, functioned.  His knowledge of business processes, gatekeepers and program structure made him an excellent candidate to take on his first leadership position with the Bullet team and he was appointed team manager for the program. “You can have the best engineering ideas in the world, but if you don’t know how to fund them, or how to navigate the bureaucratic process of a large business or university, you will never see your ideas come to life,” said Cooke.  He realized the Bullet team had a gap in this area and worked with team leadership to organize the team and support operations as well as be a member of the mechanical design team focusing on the powertrain testing and bodywork development of the vehicle.

Cooke’s undergrad career lasted longer than most, but not for lack of effort or opportunities. During the eight years between starting his degree and graduating, Cooke spent 4.5 years in full-time classes, but also packed in four terms at Honda R&D as a co-op, two terms with Venturi Automobiles, the lead sponsor of the Venturi Buckeye Bullet where he had the opportunity to live and work in Monaco with Venturi CEO, Guildo Pastor and many terms as a full time research assistant at CAR.

“While I spent longer than most as student pursuing my bachelors degree, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. This period of my life was filled with amazing experiences traveling all over the world, and working with some amazing engineers,” said Cooke.

Looking back on his time as an undergraduate student Cooke says “when I started in mechanical engineering, I was just hoping to make it through the program. Too often, I was the person who waited until the last minute to work on a project. However, as my career with the Buckeye Bullet progressed, the need for technology development for the racecar began to drive my classroom learning.  I went from being the last person to get something done for class to someone who was reading two weeks ahead and asking questions.”

“You study such a wide variety of topics in mechanical engineering it can be hard to pick out what is important,” said Cooke. But we would be developing something for the Bullet such as driveshafts or clutches and I would be hanging on to every detail in class so that I could go back to the garage in the evening and implement what I was learning.”

Cooke (far right) spent countless hours in the Motorsports Garage with his teammates working on the VBB2.5.
Cooke (far right) spent countless hours in the Motorsports Garage with his teammates working on the VBB2.5.
In 2008 Cooke was elected by the student team as team leader of the Buckeye Bullet program.  Under his leadership the team completed the final racing year of the Buckeye Bullet 2, a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle that set a World FIA Record at 303 mph. The team went on to retro-fit the Bullet 2 into a Li-Ion battery powered vehicle, dubbed the Bullet 2.5, and carried out some testing on the latest and greatest battery technologies to decide if a future battery powered vehicle was the next direction for the team. Along the way, the Bullet 2.5 test vehicle was able to set another FIA world record at 307 MPH and confirm the teams theories that a purpose built Li-ion battery vehicle could be the first EV to go 400 MPH. 

When graduation approached, Cooke was at a crossroads. He had originally planned to enter the workforce; however, he was eager to continue working on the next generation Buckeye Bullet. In 2012 Cooke graduated with Distinction in Mechanical Engineering and picked up a business management minor along the way. He was also honored with the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Undergraduate Leadership Award, as well as the Presidents Salute to Undergraduate Research Achievement. His commitment to the Bullet program kept him at Ohio State for a master’s degree where he continued to serve as the programs team leader and focused his master’s research on the design and implementation of electric powertrain for the VBB3.

“The Bullet kept me here for three more years and it was a great decision to stay,” said Cooke. “I made some of my best friends over those years. We lived and breathed Buckeye Bullet and most of us even crammed into an apartment together at some point. A lifetime of memories were made.”

Cooke with VBB3 team
Cooke (top row, third from left) in Bonneville with the VBB3 team.

In 2015 Cooke completed his master’s degree and thought it was time to move on from the team and from CAR, however Giorgio Rizzoni had other plans. When Cooke approached him to discuss job opportunities outside of CAR, he replied “where do you think you’re going, you have too much more to do here!” and asked him to stay on at CAR in a full time capacity. Cooke quickly accepted and began a role as a research specialist supporting the research mission of the center and continued to work on electrified vehicle programs. He also picked up responsibility for the centers Industrial Research Consortium, which began his liaison role between the technical research staff and the business development team at CAR. He helped Rizzoni reshape the Industrial Consortium into a new Membership model and began to work more and more with CAR’s industry partners over the next three years.

This past March, Cooke was promoted to an assistant director role for CAR where he continues to manage the CAR Industrial Consortium and support the strategic operations of the center. His expanded duties involve supporting the centers strategic direction, facilities expansion and investments. He is also a member of the technical research staff focusing on electrified powertrain, sustainable mobility and smart city initiatives. 

One of the best parts of my job is the wide variety of people I get to interact with,” said Cooke. “From students to faculty, staff, industry partners, recruitment agencies and even economic development personnel from the city and state-I get to work with great people and work on a really interesting mix of projects. And even though I give them a hard time at every opportunity, getting to know the students and see them graduate and go off to do really awesome things is ultimately the best part of my job.”