Testing times: Current and former engineers relive extraordinary experiences from their careers

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I’ll never forget…

…my accidental run-ins with two exotic creatures    

In my role as tire development engineer and test driver at Cooper Tires, I traveled far and wide around the globe, but one of my favorite locations was the company’s proving ground near San Antonio in Texas. It had everything a young test engineer could ever want: a superb test facility, loads of awesome American V8 muscle cars and, in the evening, the bright lights of San Antonio.

It was a fairly typical weekday and the team and I were traveling the one-hour commute from San Antonio to the proving ground. We had left the city limits and were well on our way, traveling down the highway at 70mph [113km/h]. Deep in conversation with my colleague about the day ahead, we didn’t notice quickly enough that a creature had run into the road until it was too late. Unable to see anything in the rearview mirror, we didn’t know what it was, but within seconds it became obvious it was a skunk.

The damage to the car was fairly minimal but the smell was like no other I had ever smelled; the kind that is so bad it makes you feel physically sick. We carried on to the proving ground, parked up, peeled off the remains of the stinking offender and gave the car a good clean as best we could. But no amount of air freshener, bleach or scrubbing would remove the smell – locals told us it never would.

After a bad start to the morning we cracked on with our test work: sand grip testing and boulder crawling in a Baja Rally-prepared Jeep – a superb piece of kit that really tested the tires to a very high limit. This type of testing had to be carried out away from the dry and wet handling tracks and in the outer test park at the facility, with swamps and ponds nearby, all of which harbored a lot of interesting wildlife.

Following one of our all-important boulder crawl tests, my colleague Paul and I decided to take a drive during lunch break. We traveled around some of the swamps and marveled at the size of the toads, dragon flies and wasps. Then all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain on my back when I sat back in my bucket seat. I saw a flying creature – the size of a small bird – buzz out of the window. I had been stung by this monster. Of course, it felt as though the sting could be life threatening. I asked Paul what we should do. He calmly suggested we drive back to the garage – a logical solution, but in my head I was about to die a painful death by the side of this swamp. 

I drove back to the garage with great care and got checked over by the medical staff, who assured me I wouldn’t die. After an antihistamine and a quiet five minutes, I was able to carry on testing into the afternoon. It was a very long day in the Texas heat. I drove back to San Antonio with a painful back and a stinking car that made me want to vomit. Many years on, test trips and stories a plenty, I still look back and think I really earned my money that day.

Rachel Evans spoke to Chris Davison, director at Total Performance Testing 

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Rachel's career in journalism has seen her write for various titles at UKi Media & Events within automotive, tire and marine. Her favourite aspect of the job is interviewing industry experts, including researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians, and learning more about the groundbreaking technologies and innovations that are shaping the future of transportation.

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