Purdue Baja Racing: Engineering on the Fly

Baja is a collegiate design series. You design, build, and compete with an off-road race car. The first thing for us is you have to come up with your design goals. You come up with how you want to improve the design, and then once you complete that, then you begin manufacturing, testing, and then competition. 90% of the car is designed and built by us. All of it’s modeled in CAD, so we have a complete CAD model of the entire car. And then 90% of it is manufactured on the Purdue campus. The engine has to be a 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton single cylinder engine. Whatever you can do for suspension to make it work is what they let you do. So suspension’s where you get to see some awesome stuff on the cars, and where you can really let your imagination go. It’s a ton of fun to drive. There’s nothing like shooting over a log. Even if you’re not moving very fast, just the fact that you can drive over almost anything is incredible to me. I’ve always been involved with four-wheelers and dirt bikes, and always enjoyed off-roading. So immediately I knew that was something I wanted to do. This is my fourth competition that I’ve been to now. We had pretty good luck with our dynamic events. We started out with acceleration… hill climb… maneuverability… and then went to suspension and traction, which is the one that’s notorious for destroying cars. And sure enough, first run, destroyed the front end. We broke our steering rack, and we don’t have a spare steering rack. So we had to pull it out of the car, and weld it back together. You go until something breaks, and then you have to fix that thing as quick as possible. Then in the endurance race today, was just cruising along at full speed and hit a telephone pole they had laid across it. Blew up the steering rack again, and blew a tire off the rim. So I got towed back. We bent the steering rack back straight, replaced the tire, fixed a brake light and sent the car back out. I think we did all of that in about 30 minutes! You see some pretty crazy stuff and you participate in some pretty crazy stuff! It’s just a giant community. It’s awesome. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best car out there and won 1st place five years in a row, or someone who’s here for the very first time. There’s no one that’s not willing to help. We’ve lent everything from extension cords to welders to tires, and then received just about everything in return. It almost feels like a big family, even if you don’t know each other. It’s a full year thing, a full-year commitment. Most of the people are putting in 20 to 30 hours a week during the school year. Easily the best thing I’ve ever done. If I’m going to design something, I want to make sure that I can fix it myself, and fix it quickly as possible. Personally, I think it’s a lot more fun. If something breaks, You’re not stressed over how you’re going to spend the next four hours fixing it. It’s like, “Put the steering rack in a vise, put a pipe on it, bend it back straight and send it back out on the track.”