A group of students from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) will race in Ohio this weekend against 140 universities in a four-day mini-Baja car contest.
The competition, set for June 16-19 on a motocross track in Troy, Ohio, is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), whose website is http://students.sae.org/competitions/minibaja/midwest/. Mini-Baja alludes to the Baja 1000 race, the nation’s foremost desert racing series held in Baja, California.
The 12 students, divided into two teams, designed and built two mini-Baja cars, which look like one-seat dune buggies. The society mailed 10-horsepower engines and an 85-page rule book to the students, who belong to the university chapter of the SAE. The students built the cars in an engineering lab in the basement of NJIT’s Campbell Hall. The cars reach speeds of 35 mph, and the competition ends with a four-hour race.
If they do well in the contest, the students can win hundreds of dollars in prize money. But the competition is less about money than about engineering, team work, and the love of building a car from scratch.
“In designing the cars we learned techniques you don’t learn in the classroom,” said Jonathan King, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering but has nonetheless stayed on his team. “You not only learn how to design a car,” he added, “but you also learn how to manufacture the car from the design. That goes beyond theory and equations and is the real test of a good engineer.”
Since graduating from NJIT, King, of Stockton, has worked as project manager for Picatinny Arsenal. He loves mechanics and ever since his freshman year he has belonged to the team. In past years, NJIT teams have had mixed success in the contest, but this year King expects his team should finish in the top five.
“Our team tested our car in the farmlands near my house in Stockton,” King said, “and it performed well. We’ve spent as much time on this car as we did on our class work. We get no credit for designing the car: It was just a labor of love.”
The students raised $5,500 to build the cars through donations from the university and corporate sponsors. NJIT has been especially supportive of the teams, and university sponsors include NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering, the mechanical engineering department, the civil and environmental engineering department, the NJIT Alumni Association and the Student Senate.
Judges at the mini-Baja contest will evaluate the cars over four days using strict criteria. On Thursday, judges do safety and design inspections. The teams will also give oral presentations about design. On Friday, judges observe the teams ride their cars and fix mechanical problems. On Saturday, the teams face a battery of tests evaluating their cars’ performance: maneuverability, handling, acceleration, braking, and pulling capacity are all assessed as the cars do laps around a dirt track known as motocross. And on Sunday the contest closes with a four-hour race. The car that does the most laps around the motocross in four hours wins.
“I can’t wait to race,” said Chris Collucci, of Clifton, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering who is captain of team two. “In class, we’re crunching numbers all day long and the equations can be repetitive. Here, we not only see our car design come to life but we get to race the car. It’s absolutely awesome.”
Once the semester ended in early May, Colluci has arrived at the lab every weekday to work on the car. He gets there at 9 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. Many of his teammates keep a similar schedule. “The time passes quickly because I love designing this car,” he said. “One day I want to work in automotive design so this contest is right up my alley.”
James Miller, a special lecturer who divides his time teaching in both the engineering technology and the mechanical engineering departments, is the students’ faculty adviser. The students gained invaluable experience, Miller said, working together to design the two cars. Entering the contest gave the students a chance to work as part of engineering teams, which they will do when graduate and work in industry, said Miller.
“This is an engineering challenge that can’t be duplicated in a classroom,” he added. “It is far more than a bunch of kids getting together in their garage and throwing together a go cart. And they will compete against 140 universities, some from America and some from abroad, including many top engineering schools. It is a chance for our students to demonstrate the high quality engineering programs we have at NJIT. The experience the students got working on the cars is not comparable to anything else they will do at NJIT.”
The teams’ corporate sponsors include Engelhardt Corporation, Iselin; Austin Helle Company, Cedar Grove; George Harms Construction Company, Farmingdale; Jack Vicchiariello Landscaping, Nutley; Service Partner Inc., Landing; C. G. Machine Shop, Landing; The Cycle Exchange, Netcong; Knight’s Automotive Repair, Ledgewood; Kenvil Equipment Inc., Ledgewood; Riccardello Inc., East Hanover; Mountain Auto Body Inc., Dayton, Tenn. and Kevin P. Glaser, Galloway, Ohio.
The student members on team one are Andy McFadzean, Little Falls; Andy Wagner, Camden; Glyn Caddel, Staten Island, N.Y.; Brian Baker, High Bridge; Jim Grazinski, Roxbury; Matt Schaffer, Morristown and Aaron Corrain, Nutley.
Team two members include Giuseppe DiSalvo, Garfield; Joe Leahy, Medford and John Kmieciak, South Amboy.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is an international organization devoted to advancing transportation and mobility technology on land, air, and sea.