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Student Experiences

Crossing the Finish Line

In April 2024, students from the School of Accountancy (SOA) worked together in pit crews to beat the clock and change the tires of retired NASCAR cars with their wits, high-power impact drills, and a wheeled pit stop jack. Off the track, these students at the BYU Marriott School of Business were preparing to cross the finish line of their junior year, and iMpact Utah helped the students kick into gear for finals week with a NASCAR team-building training.

A group of five students work on a retired racing car. In the center, a young woman is working the car-jack, her braid suspended in mid-air from the quick movement.
SOA students apply accounting principles in a hands-on NASCAR pit crew experience.
Photo courtesy of Aubry Black.

This NASCAR pit-crew activity was part of a class in the second semester of the SOA’s junior core, Accounting 409: Integrated Topics in Accounting, taught by faculty members Jonathan Liljegren and Cassy Budd. “This class is intended to deliver a capstone experience, bringing together all the disciplines they’ve learned,” said Liljegren, an associate teaching professor.

In preparation for their pit crew training, the students dissected data that recorded the pit stop lengths of several NASCAR teams from a year’s worth of races. They applied their working knowledge of variance analysis and lean accounting—which they had learned about only a week before in a different managerial accounting class. Their task: identify why their assigned team performed better or worse than the others.

Two students work together to remove a tire.
Students worked together to change the tires of retired NASCAR racing cars.
Photo courtesy of Aubry Black.

Pinpointing these variances in performance is a big part of what accountants do in businesses. “When you see variances, you’re going to try and identify—how can we bring that variance down and reduce that waste?” Liljegren said. “In NASCAR, time that holds you back from getting to the finish line is waste, so we’re able to put these business concepts in a real-world context very easily.”

When the time came to apply their studies to the NASCAR training cars, the students made their way to LaVell Edwards Stadium, where two pit stops with retired race cars had been set up in the shade of the towering structure. There, members of iMpact Utah led them through the NASCAR training, explaining what each person in a pit crew was responsible for and how to remain safe when working with the heavy machinery.

In groups of five or six, students set a time goal for their pit stops and discussed their general positions and plan. Each team had one person who worked the car jack, two who used the whirring impact drills to screw and unscrew the lug nuts on the tires, and two who collected the fallen nuts with magnetic rods when they fell below the car. It was up to each team to decide who would watch the car as it rose on the jack and call when it was high enough, who would remove and switch the tires, and whether the two teams of driller-collectors would stay on the same side or switch with the tires.

Students sit in their groups around tables in the grey and white Club 22 lounge, talking and gesturing with their hands.
While in the Club 22 lounge, students went over what went well and what they could do to improve.
Photo courtesy of Aubry Black.

Armed with thick gloves and safety glasses, these budding accountants went out for their first go at the retired race cars as freshly made pit crews. On the initial attempt, many groups took up to three minutes to change the tires—clocking a time far higher than their goal. After each try, the teams came together to discuss what had gone well, what had cost them time, and how to improve.

Every few rounds, the students piled into the Club 22 lounge where iMpact Utah employees helped each group work through strategies for the pit. These interruptions were designed to help students retain and apply the lessons they’d learned in class. “People tend to keep what they’ve learned in a box in their brain, but then they go back to their ‘real job’ and nothing gets applied,” iMpact Utah employee Eric Burton said. “To combat that, we let them struggle and feel some problems. We stop them and bring them back to business concepts—incremental gains, team-based problem solving—and then we let them apply it in the pit.”

Tate Telford, a student from Billings, Montana, said that the exercise “really showed the value of iterations of multiple incremental improvements and how that can lead to a lot of improvements over time.”

Many teams were able to cut more than a minute of time from their first pit stop to their last. “Look at what you can do if you have a growth mindset and keep looking for opportunities to grow and improve,” Liljegren said. “You can go from two minutes and 40 seconds down to under 40 seconds—and you can do that in the junior core too. You can and will see amazing growth.”

An iMpact Utah employee is explaining something to a group of SOA students. They're holding an impact drill, and in the background we see several other groups standing together and discussing.
Several iMpact Utah employees helped lead SOA students through this experience.
Photo courtesy of Aubry Black.

“We’re so happy for the trust that BYU Marriott placed in us to help the next generation going into the workforce,” said Jared Nielson, iMpact Utah’s regional director of client solutions. Of the event, Nielson said, “Students are all getting along, teams are working together—and even encouraging one another within different teams. There’s lots of noise, lots of cheering, everybody’s happy.”

Though it may be an unconventional way to prepare for finals, Liljegren hoped the high-power impact drills reminded students how fun it can be to learn. “That can be hard to remember with difficult content like we have in our classes, but we had a lot of fun with this activity,” Liljegren said. “I think that the heart of this experiential learning effort at BYU Marriott is if we can start that spark for learning—which also often comes with fun—students will start challenging themselves more on their own to learn new things.”

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Written by Melissa Een