Students design, build, test, race and market car for national competition
By Michelle Hall
Top left: Three hours into the endurance competition, Paul Homan, standing, cleans Dan Mathewson's goggles. Both students are sophomores in mechanical engineering technology at K-State at Salina.
Bottom right: Troy Henderson, senior in mechanical engineering technology, competes in the drag racing event.
Building a car from the ground up: It may be a dream for some people, but for members of Kansas State University at Salina's Mini Baja club, constructing a vehicle is also a year's worth of hard work.
Students in the club design, build, test and race their cars. They also raise all the money for the project, about $14,000 per year, and create a marketing plan for the car, a cost-analysis report, a product report, and present their sales plan at the national competition.
"It's an intense year," said Bob Henning, a member of the team for the past two years. Henning is a senior in mechanical engineering technology.
The object of the competition is to simulate real-world engineering design projects. The teams compete to have a fictitious firm accept their car for manufacture.
Under the rules, the cars must be able to be reproduced as 4,000 units, each built for less than $3,000. Each year for the past four, K-State Salina students have built a new car, and recently have allowed the younger students to re-work the car from the year before. The cars basically look like go-carts and each use the same 10-horsepower engine.
The actual competition puts the cars through a series of real-world tests including a hill climb, obstacle course, acceleration test and a four-hour off-road endurance race. In 2000, the K-State at Salina team finished 36th out of the 87 cars entered in the Midwest Mini Baja competition. In 2001, one car finished 48th, the other, 63rd, out of 118, while in 2002, the team placed 37th and 77th out of 100 cars entered.
Greg Spaulding, an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology and the team's adviser, said the experience teaches the students all about the automotive industry, as well as the importance of teamwork. Twenty-five students make up the club this year; their next competition will be in May in Ohio. The students began fundraising and designing their vehicles at the beginning of the school year and started building the cars in November. Testing their finished products comes next.
All of the work the students do is on their own time, Henning said; the competition isn't for a class project or for a grade, but rather for a club.
"It's very student driven," he said.
In fact, Spaulding said the Mini Baja competition has become something of a brotherhood; those who participate feel a connection with others who have been involved over the years. Spaulding said he's even seen this camaraderie help on a job interview.
The Society of Automotive Engineers sponsors the Mini Baja competition.