For most people, receiving a speeding ticket is an annoyance at best. For Julia Dawson, a speeding ticket accelerated her opportunities past college graduation.
Her goal now: to become the first woman to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Dawson's racing career started when, as a high school senior, she received a ticket for going 30 miles per hour over the speed limit. Instead of taking away the car keys, her father sent her to racing school.
"He said, 'If you're going to drive fast, you need to go somewhere safe to do it,'" Dawson said.
In less than a year, she progressed from novice student to driving instructor. She soon obtained her racing license and began racing on the amateur level in 2006. By 2008, she drove in her first professional series and has been competing professionally ever since. Now she drives late-model stock cars in the UARA (United Auto Racing Association) Stars Series.
Meanwhile, Dawson studied mechanical engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering.
She maintained a high grade-point average while working with engineering advisers and professors to reduce her course load and avoid Friday classes. Dawson, who graduates this month, aspires to be a paid driver, but engineering isn't just a back-up plan. Thinking as an engineer helps her diagnose problems with her car and communicate with her team.
On the other hand, she said, her technical knowledge represents only a part of what she gained at the university.
"Working full time while going to school taught me discipline and perseverance," she said. "The engineering community provided valuable friendships. There were times when I was tired or injured or sick and still had to work the equivalent of an 80-hour week. Amazing professors and fellow students inspired and encouraged me to keep going."