December 15, 2023
When Walter Storrs, B.S. ME ’66, was 5 years old, he saw his first racecar. His family was traveling to visit an aunt in Wisconsin, and their car was overheating. His dad pulled into a garage and there it was. It was 1949, and the racecar was a homemade jalopy, but Storrs was taken by it.
Fast forward some seven decades, and Walter and his wife, Sharon, have established an endowment for Mizzou Racing. It’s the College’s first endowment for a student organization.
The funding will help ensure Mizzou Engineering students continue to have opportunities to design, build and race quarter-scale formula and electric formula cars.
“We wanted to support Mizzou and support racing because the students are learning to make things happen: designing, welding, building as well as programming, budgeting and presenting,” Walter Storrs said. “It’s such a neat thing. Students don’t realize what a wonderful learning opportunity this is. When I was in school, we had a mechanical lab but nothing comparable to Mizzou Racing.”
The Storrs Ice & Coal Endowment for Formula SAE & Eco-Racing also pays tribute to the business his grandfather ran in Hannibal, Missouri. If you take the town’s famous riverboat cruise, you can see the company’s name cast into the former foundation of the coal barn. Storrs discovered it cast into the cement while taking the tour himself and later returned to paint the letters white.
From the fields to the quad
While the goal of Mizzou Racing is all about moving forward fast, Storrs’ journey to this moment has been long and winding. He grew up in the country outside of Hannibal, fixing his bicycles and lawnmowers, working on a 1938 Chevy that had been passed down to him and watching from his back yard as heavy machinery and earth movers built Highway 36 through his family’s property.
When Storrs was a junior in high school, something happened that helped shape his future. His cousin, who had just earned a degree in electrical engineering in Cleveland, Ohio, passed through on the way to his new job in Tucson.
“He stopped by Hannibal with a new car and took us all to dinner and paid,” Storrs recalled. “I thought, ‘man, I have to hang in there and get a degree so I can buy a new car, too.’ And we did.”
After two years at a community college, Walter and Sharon Storrs came to Columbia, where Walter enrolled in mechanical engineering. The size of the campus and community were a bit overwhelming, but it was a true blessing when Sharon found a job near campus that not only paid for living expenses, tuition and books but also provided free parking.
Coursework was hard, but Storrs commented that he had two things going for him.
“We were married and broke, so that left a lot of time for studying.”
Storrs has a few fun memories from his days at Mizzou. When he was a junior, Storrs was inducted into Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society that has a brass statue known as a bent outside of Lafferre Hall. That year, some agricultural students tried to steal the bent but couldn’t get it done. The president of the Tau Beta Pi chapter was notified and safely unbolted it and protected it under his bed until Engineers’ Week. Storrs and fellow inductees thought they’d get out of the tradition of having the polish the bent during Engineers’ Week, but when they showed up to report for a different task, it had reappeared, ready for induction duties. (A close look at the post today will show where the partial saw cut was repaired.)
Storrs also recalled that in the 1960s, the quadrangle around the Columns was sort of hallowed ground — no walking across the grass or climbing the structures. On graduation day, however, Storrs convinced his parents to take a photo in front of the Columns — now a well-established tradition at Mizzou.
From the quad to the racetrack
After graduation, Storrs got a job at Lockheed in Georgia as an associate aircraft engineer (draftsman) for the C5-A Galaxy cargo aircraft for the Air Force. After a year of sitting at the drawing board in a windowless bay of drafting tables, Storrs jumped at an opportunity to work for the Army while they paid for him to earn a master’s degree from Texas A&M.
From there, he moved to Detroit to work for the Army’s tank-automotive command, where he worked until eligible for retirement.
That’s when he started volunteering for the Society of Automotive Engineers Formula SAE (FSAE) competition in Michigan, at the time held at the Pontiac Silverdome close to his house. There, he was able to serve as a steward for the Mizzou Racing team during competitions. He was the official formal avenue between the teams and the SAE.
“I mostly did nothing but hung out and marveled at what the team had accomplished under the tutelage of shop supervisor Rick Wells,” he said.
Storrs continued to volunteer annually until the competition moved to Michigan International Speedway about 100 miles from his home. He’s been back to the track several times since. He was a corner flagger at the 2023 competition, where he gleefully recorded the University of Kansas car being directed into the slow lane to let Mizzou pass.
In 2023, Walt and Sharon volunteered at the Baja SAE Racing competition in Ohio, which was a lot of fun, he said, because it was a lot less structured than FSAE.
“Ever since I saw my first racecar at 5, I always had an automotive and mechanical bent,” he said. “There have been so many decision junctures along the way that led to relative prosperity that can only be the result of divine influence.”
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