Not that the Corry native has much time to do so. Besides juggling a full load of engineering design technology classes and tutoring, McCray is a Presidential Student Ambassador, a resident assistant and a student College Relations assistant. In those roles, he serves as a liaison between the college and current students, prospective students and families, alumni, and industry partners.
He’s also a member of Campus Crusade for Christ and Student Wildcats of Robotic Design and has played for the college’s men’s volleyball club team.
“Wes wants to make the most of his time here at Penn College,” said Katherine A. Walker, assistant professor of engineering design technology and one of McCray’s instructors. “He puts his academics front and center, but he is attentive to the other opportunities the college offers that can help him grow in areas such as leadership, communication and personal management. It’s very obvious to me that his hard work is paying off.”
It’s paid off at the track as well. In the past two years, he’s won four features – typically 15 laps around a half-mile oval dirt track – driving his No. 32 car in the Pro Stock Class.
“I’m still learning,” McCray said. “I’m racing against some guys who have been racing longer than I’ve been alive.”
McCray has tinkered with cars for as long as he can remember. A scar above his right eye – the result of falling on a lug nut when he was 5 years old – offers visual proof of the countless hours spent in the family’s race shop, an old barn converted into a two-car garage. There, he’s worked alongside his younger brother, Drake, in assisting their father, Eric, a veteran racer. Their mother, Julie, is often stationed in the pits on race day.
As a kid, McCray enjoyed working on the body of cars. Today, his responsibilities are more encompassing.
“Racing isn’t the cheapest sport in the world. We buy cars that have been either wrecked or need redone,” he said. “We find used parts that are still good and use them to reassemble the cars ourselves to save money. It’s nice to go out and beat some guys who have newer equipment.”
McCray won his first feature at age 11, racing on asphalt in the Bandolero Class, a division for entry-level drivers. A year later, he captured the Bandolero championship at his home track, Lake Erie Speedway. McCray eventually secured his NASCAR-sanctioned license to advance to the Modified Division and began racing on dirt, as well as asphalt. The past few years have been devoted exclusively to dirt-track racing in the Pro Stock Class.
“The biggest difference between asphalt and dirt is that on asphalt, you want the car’s rear to be planted to the track,” he explained. “You want your weight low and to the left. On dirt, you need the rear to be hanging out so you can drift around the corners. You want the car’s weight high and to the right.”
His current car sports a Camaro front stub and is powered by a 406 Chevy engine with about 580 horsepower, delivering an average speed of 89 mph. It also contains the inspiration for McCray’s favorite school project. He modeled the car’s steering column for one of his computer-aided design classes.
While McCray often goes home on weekends to labor on his car, he devotes weekdays to his studies and myriad college-service responsibilities.
“I plug in all my work and just create a schedule,” said McCray, who is slated to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering design technology. “It feels like my first semester was yesterday. Every day goes by faster. I’m making memories every day.”
When he was a high school junior, McCray realized he wanted to make Penn College memories. He lived on campus during Free Enterprise Week, a program that prepares high school students for the changing workforce.
“I fell in love with the campus,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I could wake up here every day.’ It just felt right.”
So did choosing engineering design technology, which marries mechanical aptitude with engineering sensibilities.
"I love taking an idea and forming it into something through our software to create actual models that work,” said McCray, a mainstay on the Dean’s List. “When you come here, you’re actually experiencing and learning what you’re going to be doing in industry. Industry doesn’t have to reteach you. They know you can do the job.”
A job that Walker expects him to do quite well someday.
“Most likely, Wes was an inquisitive problem-solver before he started at Penn College. We are helping him take it to a higher level,” she said. “His proactive, can-do mindset, along with strong engineering CAD and design skills, will be valued by his future employer.”
McCray hopes that future employer is in the automotive field, but of more immediate concern is the upcoming racing season, which begins in March and runs through September at the half-dozen dirt tracks within 90 miles of his home.
This season is likely to offer a new experience for his family. McCray expects his brother to be available to race while on leave from the Navy. It will be the first time that the two brothers and father all compete in the same race.
“It will be cool,” McCray said. “Definitely, it will be fun!”
In addition to the bachelor’s degree in engineering design technology, Penn College offers a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and an associate degree in engineering CAD technology.
For information about those and other majors from the college’s School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520 or visit www.pct.edu/et.
Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Visit www.pct.edu, email email@example.com or call toll-free 800-367-9222.