Baja diary

Apr 16, 2010

Kettering's Mini Baja Bulldog Racing team had a, well, let's just say INTERESTING time at competition in South Carolina. Team co-captain Matt Banks provided an account in his own words.

Racing to re-assemble their vehicle in time to travel the 12-plus hours to Greenville, S.C., Kettering University's Mini Baja Bulldog Racing team pushed a lot of limits, but managed to pull it all together in time. What follows is an account of their trip to the SAE International Collegiate Design Series Spring 2010 competition, written by team co-captain Matt Banks.

In the end, the team was ranked 72 overall out of a field of 104 and finished in the 59th position for the endurance race. Their other rankings were: 27th in Suspension and Traction; 71st in the Pulling event; 40th in Manuverability; 47th in Acceleration; 79th in Design; and 85th in Cost. (For more background on this story, see the pre-event story at

An engineer's account

4-7-10 10:31 p.m.: ON THE ROAD. Finally, we were on the road. After three (for some four) whole days of non-stop working on the car and making it look pretty, we were on the road - just hoping that we didn't forget anything. Those chocolate chip and M&M cookies did the trick to push the team over the edge, THANKS DAWN!!

Just 11 hours until arrival! The drive went off without a hitch, stopped for fuel/gas every 250-300 miles. The only thing that stunk was that around 4-5 a.m. (about six to seven hours into the drive) I looked around to see my three copilots sacked out in the truck . . . BOY! that made the drive long and boring. Thanks guys!

4-8-10 6 a.m.: DETOUR!!!  Yuck, this is one of the last things that I wanted to encounter on the drive down. I had a heads-up from a fellow competitor about it, who also drove from Michigan, but I figured a simple rock slide should be no problem to have cleaned up by the time we got down there. I guess the North Carolina Road Commission just wasn't up to the challenge, or they didn't know we were coming?! It took us roughly two hours out of our way and caused considerable headache. But thank goodness the three sleeping beauties finally woke up!

4-8-10 12:30 p.m.: ARRIVAL!! We made it, now we just had to get the car through the Briggs and Stratton Tech section to be ready for Tech Inspection! We were in line and waited a good three hours before event officials came up and said they were closing for the day because there was some severe weather coming through. C'mon, severe? Guess there was a tornado, but we've got a Baja to race here! After scurrying back to our trailer, we continued to work through the night and made sure we had everything covered so we could go to tech inspection in the morning and have it go off without a hitch.

4-9-10 7:30 a.m.: LATE!! We woke up late, the Captains/Advisers meeting was at 7:30! Scramble, scramble, scramble to get to the track and get things taken care of. Worst of all, is that my co-captain Nick Ward woke up with a severely swollen lip. He went to the hospital and we continued to get the car re-guarded after having taken all the guards off for Briggs and Stratton to set the govern settings on the engine. Next was our Design Review at 3:30 PM. We were one of the last groups to go through design and we even had to wait in line. Later this will make sense why it stunk.

Out of all the judging, we had a pile of compliments the size of the garage. The suspension dynamics guys were blown away by our knowledge of our suspension, and the numbers that we could produce at the drop of a hat when they asked. One judge said “The ideas for the rear suspension were absolutely revolutionary compared to what other teams were doing. Rather than cutting up an ATV/UTV suspension and modding (modifying) it to your car, you guys are building something completely new and designing a system that works for anything you can throw at it. A+ in my book.”

The ergonomics judges were as follows: a 5'5'' 130 lb guy and a 6'5' 330 lb guy. When the 5'5'' judge was looking at the car you could tell he was skeptical, but when he got in this is what he said: “WOW, this is the first car that I actually can say feels perfect! The placement of your controls and steering wheel is remarkable, even the heel plate is in a usable/functional position. Nothing jumps out at me as uncomfortable. It feels like I could drive this all day without feeling sore!”

We were absolutely floored to hear that. THEN the 6'5'' judge came along. We knew he would fit, as we designed the car for a guy 6'7" in height, who was unable to fulfill his team member duties (so was not present). And I quote “WOW, you’re actually right.” From what I heard from other teams that day, he had been tearing cars apart with ergonomic flaws. Yet he had very, very little to say about ours. CHA CHING!

Overall . . . not bad for a car that was designed and built in six months! Imagine what will happen when we have a full year to do that?!?!

We didn't get to tech inspection at our pre-determined time because we were in our design review when they called our number . . . MORE PROBLEMS! Good thing that we were in design review and they were able to give us a new number and place us at the back of the line.

4-9-10 4:45 p.m.: We were finally in tech, things were going great until our inspector was staring at the back of our car . . .finally I asked him if everything was ok and he said “I need a second opinion.” . . . OH RATS, SECOND OPINION, REALLY? A SECOND OPINION?! THOSE AREN'T GOOD IN TECH! Well, after arguing with the judges about a rule that actually would make our frame weaker than it was, they failed us based on the bars we had placed at a 15.5 degree angle vs. the 15 degree angle that the rule requires. Mind you, the way you measure these angles is on a projection created by two planes in free space that you have to look at above the car . . . imagine trying to measure that with an angle finder on the ground.

Well, we had to add a tube . . . GRRRR, but we passed tech. As the largest driver, I was “randomly” chosen to egress the car. Darn straight! First egress ever on this chassis in 2.5 seconds under the required five seconds and everything else went off without a hitch.

4-10-10 8 a.m.: IN LINE AT TECH! After a failing grade the first day, we had to fix what was wrong and get through the little dynamic events such as braking, acceleration, traction pull, suspension and maneuverability. We finished a very respectable 27th in suspension and 40th in maneuverability. The suspension course was really nothing for our car. We went with 17” of travel in the front and 18” in the rear. Our car did very well, and will do better in years to come with better acceleration. The maneuverability was a great accomplishment for the driver of that event, Erik Hardy. As one of the largest cars at the event, we still beat 60 percent of the field. More good things are to come from Eric and the rest of the team.

4-11-10 9 a.m.: HAPPY BIRTHDAY DANA! Oh wait, and it was ENDURANCE RACE day! That's right it was d-day and I had missed my girlfriend's birthday, sorry hunny! . . . But I'm driving first guys, ha ha, had to pull the trump card on the guys that day. I put in way too much time to not drive this thing! The car handled great, we started in like 30th position (sorry, couldn't get out to count) and we were steadily passing cars all day. I distinctly remember bashing in and out of cars because most of the other cars would rather slow down and crawl over the rocks and logs, where Bulldog Racing just powered through at full throttle. GET OUTTA THE WAY!

At one point, when Erik Hardy was driving, he passed a car through the rock crawl and nearly ran over two course workers. When I saw their faces and then saw them call out the number 55, I was sure they were going to black flag us. The course workers yelled back and forth to one another: “See that #55 car?!” “They have been like that all day!” “Yeah AGGRESSIVE!” “THAT'S GOOD!!” Definitely dodged a bullet there, but he had it coming standing so close to the edge of the course.

Everything seemed to be going peachy keen, got black flagged at one point because our skid plate had become loose from driving the car so hard when I was driving that we had to pit. This came at a good time for a driver change - over to co-captain Nick Ward. He drove for approximately 45 minutes before he noticed that the steering was getting screwy and a nut had come loose, allowing the wheel to turn irregularly. He took a pit stop, which was right on par with the 45 minute time frame we had set up to give all five drivers a chance in the hot seat.

Erik Hardy was up next and put the car through its paces like Nick and myself had already done, and was throwing down some ridiculous passes on the slower teams through much of the track. It wasn't until two hours and 30 minutes into the event that we got some serous bad news . . .“broke” came across the radio for the Kettering #55. OH NO! We actually had a car that handled so well that I sheered the wheel flanges strait off the hub. We tried our best to fix it, but by the time the track personnel got our car back to our trailer there was only an hour left and we were unable to get it fixed.

The guys put forth an effort that I have not seen by any other team at the event that day. Congratulations to Kettering University Mini Baja on the great achievements that they accomplished in this event.

4-12-10  2 a.m.: THE DRIVE HOME. The trip had me driving the 11 hours overnight again in hopes of getting the guys back in time to catch classes and/or work on Monday. It caused so much trouble that it hurt. We were just inside the North Carolina line, approximately four hours into the journey and already through that dreaded detour, when we blew a tire....Thank goodness for spares right?! WRONG . . . 9.5 hours in, just north of Lima, Ohio, we blew our second . . . well no more spares and that was that. We ended up buying a tire from the only place that was open and we were on the road again.

That was that for the Kettering University Mini Baja team. We arrived at 12:30 p.m. on April 12, back at Kettering and got some sleep, well, I got some sleep. The rest of the team had to get to class or work.

Submitted by Matt Banks- Kettering University Mini Baja Bulldog Racing

Contact: Dawn Hibbard