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Students meet with gear head Leno before show

Originally published October 22, 2010

Stephen Brodkin had heard about Jay Leno’s obsession with cars before last weekend.

But he’s not really into stand up comedy, so the late night funny man’s show wasn’t a huge attraction for him.

At least not until he found out he’d be meeting with Hollywood’s best-known car collector.

“When I found out Leno was going to be visiting for Homecoming, I honestly didn’t think of it until I found out he’d be meeting with us,” Brodkin, a senior mechanical engineering major, said. “The only interest I had in him was that I knew he was supposedly a gear head.”

Leno visited with Brodkin – who pointed out he rather enjoyed Leno’s act – and 17 of his classmates last weekend before he took the stage in the arena.

The reason?

The class, taught by Martin Morris, built cars for their senior projects, and Leno loves cars. One is a formula race car and the other is a lightweight urban vehicle, which is ultra-light weight and designed for efficiency in an urban commute.

“We found out [about a week] before he was here that he’d be meeting with us,” Morris said. “He walked in and went directly over to the students. He was one of the team. He blended in. We were just talking cars.”

The entire conversation lasted about 30 minutes, during which Leno signed both vehicles, talked shop with the students and cracked a few jokes.

“While we were waiting at the arena for his arrival, you could definitely feel the nerves in the room,” said Curtis Brackett, also a senior mechanical engineering major. “But the second he walked into the room, he went straight over to the two teams involved … asking numerous questions about our vehicles and telling us about his.”

The half hour Leno spent talking with the students – while wearing jeans over his usual suit – went pretty fast.

“I believe that if he had more time, he would have talked with us about our cars and his [cars] all night,” Brackett said. “It was surreal. Jay put a cap on the ‘surrealness’ when he invited us to his garage in California.”

Leno, who has had a decent bit of negative media attention in the last 10 months, was the epitome of down to Earth, at least to the 20 or so in that room on Saturday night.

“I was totally impressed by his professionalism, his knowledge on cars and how easy it was to talk to him,” Brodkin said. “He’s exactly how I hoped he’d be. I think all of us will remember this as one of the highlights of our Bradley careers.”

For Brackett, the meeting, combined with a shout out during Leno’s act, was almost a validation of all the hard work poured into the cars.

“This opportunity will make all the late nights in Jobst [Hall] a little bit easier to cope with,” he said.

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