When many of us think of the hobbies of an engineer, we tend to think along the lines of what fits on our workbench. Thoughts of physically constructing things or late-night soldering sessions are usually first and foremost. However, when Doug Makishima sits in his office thinking of his hobby activities, it is the roar of the engine and the blur of the road that fills his mind.
Doug is the chief operating officer for D2 Tech, a company that specializes in embedded software for communication. While his day job may consist of focusing on becoming the very best in the field of VOIP, his passion involves being the best on the track.
EE Times: You're currently the COO, but I understand you have a fairly technical background right?
Doug Makishima: Yes, I've been a chip designer, former engineer, board designer, worked in storage, networking, and wireless. I've shifted more into the business side of things but I'm still in involved in the technical.
EE Times: When did you first get into racing?
Doug Makishima: It started back in high school. I had a 1968 Camaro that I did a lot of tuning on. I did a little bit of quarter mile racing. There was a local racetrack that had Tuesday night races you could join for a couple bucks. I frequently worked at the school's auto shop on that car, pretty extensive stuff too. I had the engine in and out several times and did some upgrades to the drive train. That was really the spark that started it.
I've always been into the engineering and performance of it all. Then I got responsible and kind of lost touch of the whole high performance driving and stuff. Around 2000 I had a Porsche Boxster S and took it to a track on track day.
We're very fortunate in the San Francisco Bay Area to have two very nice tracks at our disposal. They're well known tracks so it is a thrill to be able to drive your car on the track. I was hooked on road racing as opposed to oval track. There are twists and turns and elevation changes, as opposed to simple oval track racing.
I started getting deeper into it. I worked on the Porsche, then got a BMW M3 and worked on that. 2004 was my first season of competitive racing with the SCCA. I was rookie of the year and never looked back since.
The last couple years I've been running in the USTCC series. I also run with NASA or the National Auto Sport Association. I do some high performance driving instruction as well. This is going on my 10th season of competitive racing and I also now offer race driver coaching.
EE Times: Why racing?
Makishima: It is certainly a lot of fun. There's adrenaline in competition. Combine driving skill, strategy, or racecraft, which can make a difference. There's also the huge aspect of racecar engineering. Obviously it is about performance but also handling, like your suspension geometry, dampers, and tires. Each little section just has tons of engineering involved.
The engine tuning is pretty much software-based. There are plenty of mechanical things, but most of that mechanical aspect is set at the beginning of the season. The software tuning is constantly evolving. On the track we use data acquisition. They have GPS and accelerometer-based acquisition systems. We can read the g-force changes on stopping or going. We can track the handling and everything. There are so many things you can tweak, like down forces and suspension aspects.
For driver skills, I find it very useful to use simulators. That can be at home with a Playstation or Xbox with a good wheel and pedal setup to a full-blown racing sim at a shop.
Normally if you watch it on TV you only see a tiny bit, but there is really a massive amount of engineering that goes into building and then adjusting aerodynamics, suspension, performance, and even tire pressure!
EE Times: So you’re the chief operating officer of a company and you travel a lot, how is your day split? Where does racing fit?
Makishima: This series is about six races a year, so it is manageable. It ends up being about maybe 10 race weekends a year. I may not be racing, but I'm involved somehow, either coaching or something. It can be a challenge balancing everything. The good news is that most of the time it is just over the weekend. Occasionally I have to take off a Friday as well.
EE Times: What does the future hold for you? Do you plan on becoming a full-time race car driver?
Makishima: Well of course the dream is to do it full time. I have to be realistic about it though. There are very few slots for that. There is an incredible amount of skill required plus a large financial requirement. There's a big gap between those who are paid professionals and where I am. For now it is a hobby. I don't see it becoming a career, but I definitely enjoy not only the racing but working on the cars and doing the engineering. Whether I'm behind the wheel or not, I definitely want to stay in the industry.
It is always refreshing to see just how diverse the hobbies of engineers can be. While I absolutely love seeing the cool constructions and machinations on a workbench, this high-octane competition is quite refreshing.