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He received a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Detroit, and joined the Ford Motor Company in 1986. While working for Ford he attended the Jim Russell Racing Driver School and started racing in Formula Ford in 1991. In 1993 he was appointed Programmes Manager for Ford in the U.S.
In this role, he met Adrian Reynard who asked him to become Operations Director at British American Racing in Formula One in 1998. After three years at BAR, he was recruited by Bobby Rahal in 2001 to be Chief Operating Officer at Jaguar Racing, but a week before he was supposed to start Rahal was fired and Szafnauer was not needed any more. After several months of unemployment he was hired by Honda, who had made a comeback to Formula 1, to help its engineers.
After leaving Honda in 2008, he founded Soft Pauer, which released the official Formula One Timing and Track Positioning Application  on the iPhone in June 2009, before joining Force India on November 2, 2009.