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RBRA Careers: How to become… A Machinist

Here at Red Bull Racing Australia HQ, a lot more goes on behind the scenes than you may imagine, the engineering arm of Triple Eight working around the clock.

The workshop is in operation year round to keep churning out everything to build a race car as part of our engineering programme for not just ourselves but our customers too, though the boss has been known to let us have Christmas day off when he’s feeling generous. Lucky us!

It’s not as simple as taking a car off the road and sticking it on the track – 75% of our RBRA Holden VF Commodores is designed and built in-house right here and we supply control parts to every team in pit lane, so as Jamie says “everyone’s got a little bit of Triple Eight in them”.

Producing these parts is a fascinating and intricate job that is left in the capable hands of our CNC machinists. Everyone else is too scared to touch the machines. It’s a process of creating a fully functioning jigsaw piece from scratch that fits together with thousands of others in varying shapes and sizes to eventually all work in unison to create the breath-taking, hair-raising spectacle of a V8 Supercar.

Qualifications

Let’s start with the basics – the first thing RBRA’s Machine Shop Manager Craig Johnstone recommends is maths. “Machining is all about numbers,” he says.

“Things like trigonometry you use quite often,” says Grant Crosby, who originally planned to go into mechanical engineering. “I wasn’t too fond of the idea of sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen all day every day (no offence engineers!) and much preferred working with my hands.”

Draughting, physics, engineering and metal work are also on the check list where possible.

Enjoy your school days while you can though because afterwards it’s a hard slog in the real world, as Len Carlsen, who joined the Triple Eight machine shop in 2005, will tell you: “I did a four year apprenticeship in Fitting Turning and Machining, which included two nights a week at TAFE. That’s after being at work all day. I then went on to do a Diploma in Works Management.”

While university isn’t necessary, going to TAFE or attending evening school while working are definitely CV must-haves.

Experience

If you’re reading this, chances are this box is already ticked – your hobbies should revolve around motorsport.

Craig hits the nail on the head: “I believe you have to be interested in cars, or it is just a job and you won’t last long with that outlook.”

“I got into motorsport at a young age,” says Grant. “I started racing karts as a young kid, before doing a little bit of NZ V8 touring car stuff in my late teens & early twenties.

“If I wasn’t away racing karts or NZV8s, I was either mucking around on cars in the shed, or crewing for my uncle at Speedway.”

If you can turn your hobby into work, that’s a bonus. Payment is a luxury though.

“I started out crewing on drag cars when I was younger, which I did for free,” says Craig, while Len worked for various Speedway teams in New Zealand.

As for building up the CV, it’s not essential to work in motorsport from the go. Len is evidence that good knowledge and a strong skill base in machining can get you there. Once you’re in the trade, you’re more likely to cross paths with the right people.

“I started working life doing an apprenticeship at a large pump manufacturing company,” he says, which eventually lead him and the family from New Zealand across the pond after a nine-year stint with a marine sheet and anchor winch manufacturer. “I heard Australia was in need of some decent trades people!”

While running the CNC machines for a general engineering workshop in Brisbane, Len did some work for Triple Eight. “After six months part time, I was asked if I wanted to go full time. What a silly question!”

Getting a job

“Be proactive!” advises Grant. “The first thing I did when I moved to Australia from New Zealand was print off some CVs and visit each of the Queensland V8 Supercar teams. None of them were advertising but I went in anyway, showed my face and gave them my CV.

“They might throw it straight in the rubbish, or they might just keep it tucked away and be in touch in future.  I think it was over a year, and a couple of ‘has anyone quit yet?’ emails to Craig [Johnstone] later, that he got hold of me to see if I was still interested in a job as something had just come up.”

Like in any job, personal attributes are almost as important as a strong resume.

“You need a thick skin,” says Craig. “You need a good attention to detail and take pride in your work.”

One thing that all three machinists agree on though is that you sure as heck don’t come into motorsport for the money.

As Len says, “do it for the love of motorsport, not for income”.

“There’s more money to be made in the real world,” reflects Craig. “But it’s not as much fun as our world!”

Pearls of wisdom

In the words of Craig Johnstone: “Don’t take life too seriously, nobody gets out alive anyway.”