Is it still Blizzard if everything is melting?

In a complete 180 from the frostbite-threatening air of 2016, Blizzard Baja at this year was a summer vacation. We had a ton of fun returning to Michigan Tech regardless, and everyone got to drive around this year, even if it wasn't on the official racecourse!

"Let me adjust the settings again, there's a lot of white in there"

But backtracking to the beginning, we started out dark and early doing some final checks on Knuckles and Elbows, before passing through Tech Inspection and the infamous pickled egg dynamic event.

Waiting for Tech Inspection: even Gilly Monsters need their beauty sleep.

Waiting for Tech Inspection: even Gilly Monsters need their beauty sleep.

Before we knew it, the race was on! We were doing pretty well, switching out drivers every 3 laps for Knuckles and every 4 for Elbows.

Luke in Elbows (38) about to pass Joe in Knuckles (14).

But then - plot twist! - about an hour and a half into the race, they had to stop the cars because it was too warm and the track was turning into complete mush. The large tabletop section was still intact though, so officials had us race in a loop around the parking lot and the tabletop, and we got our remaining cats and kittens into Knuckles to take a few spins.

Newly be-whiskered!

We left tired and happy, and are excited to return next year for a hopefully moderately-frozen comp. Third time's the charm, as they say.

And thank you to the talented Amanda Nicole for her photographs! Check out her Facebook here.

Making Mayhem at Midnight

For the first time in Northwestern Baja history, the team attended the Midnight Mayhem competition hosted by Louisville Baja in Kentucky, and what a crazy day (and night) it was! Some highlights:

  • The clay that swallowed up one of our arm restraints (which will rest in KY mud forever) and doubled the diameter of our wheels
  • Elbows took 7th in maneuverability out of the 90-ish cars there
  • We got 16 (!) drivers into the seat during the endurance race, a record for the NU Baja archives
  • Elbows' back left wheel, which came off mid-turn and rolled into the depths of the KY woods at the end of endurance

It was an experience that we wouldn't have missed for the world, read on the find out more!

It was only the second weekend of school, and comp is always a great motivator for getting the cars in shipshape working order. So that's exactly what we did, even as our recruitment team was also busy getting our new members acquainted with the team.

Louisville, KY was actually the closest of the competitions that we've been to in the past few years, a mere 7 hour drive away. We arrived Friday night, and spent some time in the pits putting some bright finishing touches on the cars - brake lights (kinda important) and colorful LEDs (very important).

Elbows is ready to rumble.

Saturday dawned with no sign of the promised showers, which was good because the ground was muddy enough as it is (if there is such a thing as enough mud).

Futile mud removal attempts.

After passing Tech, we took Elbows and Knuckles over to brakes check. They both passed, although it took a couple extra tries with Knuckles.

RIP Blue Arm Restraint, which was forever lost into the inscrutable depths of the Kentucky mud. We will never forget you.

From there we moved onto the dynamic events: acceleration, maneuverability, and a motocross-style suspension.

On your marks, get set, go! Elbows (38) in the lead with Knuckles (14) following behind.

Elbows (feat. Isaac) deftly navigated his way into 7th place in the Maneuverability event!

Elbows was the favored contender in the suspension course with its better acceleration and maneuverability, and it did indeed win the first round (although Knuckles going off a small cliff helped with that). But in a bizarre twist of events that included some wooden posts being pulled up and unnecessary direction reversal, Knuckles was able to beat Elbows in the second round thanks to its highly torqued gearbox! Regardless of outcome though, it was thrilling to see two of our own cars race so closely on the track.

Head to head on the Suspension course.

After dinner and walking the track, it was soon time to grid for Endurance and the colorful chaos that involved.

University of Louisville did an awesome job with the track - there's nothing that quite compares to driving over logs and around bends in the dark while knowing there are ravines to fall down and trees to run into. Despite some quick pit stops along the way, the number of people we got to drive far exceeded our expectations. We finished the race with our 15th and 16th drivers in the seat!

Pit repair: A cluster of light and quick thinking.

And so the night ended with 21 muddy, happy Motorcats!

Blizzard Baja 2016

This past weekend, 20 of our team members went up to Michigan Tech University in Houghton, MI for the annual "Blizzard Baja" competition. We brought Knuckles, and our Formula team fixed up our old car, Spot, so he came along as well. It would be the first time at winter comp for our current members, and the first time at any comp for all of our new Motorkittens.

Race day dawned bright and early and very very cold - a high of 3 degrees Fahrenheit (and that's without windchill!). 

Setting up the tent in front of the trailer, sheltering Knuckles and the team from the wind.

After some last adjustments to the shocks, wheels, and CVT guard, and we passed Tech Inspection without much trouble.

We were intrigued by the dynamic event, especially the pickled egg component. We decided Sarah and Faye would make the fastest driver change, and Karl bravely volunteered for the egg consumption.

Karlllll, eat the egg faster!

And as always, pancke making by Jared was in full swing, with some grilled cheeses being thrown into the mix this time around.

Yes, that is pancake being fed through a helmet.

Before we knew it, it was race time. Joe was up first, and we decided to switch drivers every three laps to give more people a chance to drive. After an incredibly fast 10-minute brake bleed fix, Joe was followed by Drew, Faye, Mikey, Isaac, Sarah, Eric, Alex, and Jared, which brought us to 9 drivers, 26 laps, and around 3.5 hours in the 4 hour race. At that point, a shaft in the gearbox broke, which we decided to fix back at school.

Overall, we had a blast this weekend, and are very happy with our performance! For more pictures, check out the Blizzard Baja 2016 Album and our Facebook page.

The cold never bothered us anyway

Next stop: Baja Maryland!

We had a great first all-member meeting over the weekend.  To get our new members their introduction to the team, they took apart our current car, Knuckles, clear down to the frame.  There is a lot of work ahead of us to redesign our corners and transmission for the year, plus many smaller projects.

As of this morning, we’re registered as team 54 for Baja SAE Maryland, on May 7-10, 2015!

Kansas Results

This past year, we've gone from finishing one competition-ready car in five years to completely designing and building a new racecar in one. We now have double the number of team members, and every one of us was very proud as Knuckles made it back onto the endurance track again and again, determined to overcome the obstacles in our way. It took the dedication and perseverance of every person to achieve the results below. Great work this year, team! 

172 out of 1000 points
81st place out of 115

73.9 out of 300

30.8 out of 50

46.3 out of 75

51.9 out of 400

To the Finish!!

An epic race!

John started driving and got in a good one and a half laps before the throttle cable came loose! He got towed back to camp and we quickly put him back together and out on the track in a jiffy. After another few laps, he pulled off due to some weird noises coming from the back of the car and what seemed like a slow loss of power. In the paddocks Mikey ripped open the CVT guard and inspected it to confirm that it was just the drive belt bouncing around in it’s finger-proof cage. 

After this little examination, Carolyn Jane got in the car! She whipped 4 laps out in no time flat. The car washandling magnificently and passing cars through the technical turns. Suddenly, she lost all power in the left side of the car. She managed to finish another lap steering furiously towards the right but still slipping out of bounds around the sharp, bumpy turns where the front tires lost traction. Finally, Knuckles was hit from behind around one such curve, and pushed into a cluster of track workers who quickly pulled him off the field.

Back at the paddocks, the team assembled. CVT cover – off. Rear suspension – detached. CVT – off. Gear box – out. Gear box on table. Gear box open. Found the sheared key which had been bringing power to the left side of the vehicle. The coupler – the shaft which supplies both sides of the car with power – was also cracked almost down it’s length where the key had broke. Hm. To Work!! Mike took the coupler to be welded back together. John found key stock and started cutting a new key. 30 minutes later, we assembled it all; ground down the edges so the key fit just right; ground off the filler on the weld so it hugged the shafts just right. Gearbox, assemble!! 10 minutes till the race is over. Gearbox – back together. Gearbox – back in the car. CVT – on. CVT guard – on. Rear suspension – reattached. Start the car. It works.

Mike is driving and we ran him back to the track at full speed. He took off and made it around three turns before he hit a log pile and lost power again. No time to fix it. The white flag when up and the track cleared. But hey, we were on the track when the race ended.

Friday in Kansas

Happy Friday! It was a brutally early start for John, Mike, and Mickey. They got up at 4 AM to get us an early spot in the governor inspection line with Briggs and Stratton. The rest of the team arrived with doughnuts several hours later… after the sun had come up. We rolled right through the first inspection, and Ben, who got here late last night, was there to check out our brakes before we went to the next one.

We fixed up a few weak spots on the car, and headed to the garage for our design presentation. We had a powerpoint documenting some of the analysis and design processes we used to build Knuckles; the judges seemed interested. Then we split up – four team members each with a judge grilling them about one area of the car or another. Last year we stumbled to explain that we hadn’t actually built the car ourselves*; this year, we pulled out pages of calculations and graphs to explain the logic behind our car. I think it went swimmingly.

This afternoon was a little less glorious. We rolled up to the garage a second time to complete our technical inspection around 3. This inspection may prove to be the most stressful part of my year. Just as it was last year. The judges measure every dimension of the frame, check every edge, nut and bolt, and zip tie for compliance with the rules. With some whirlwind calculations from Mike, and a little jostling from John, we made it through with only a few minor changes to make to the car. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the truck, all hands on deck flying, to get the changes made. Unfortunately, the inspections closed before our number was called again, so we’ll be first (11th) in line tomorrow!!

Overall, it was a beautiful hot day, and we made lots of friends with our neighboring teams. Senior Will Worden’s parents came down from Iowa to see us today as well as Mr. Taseff, our Chief Engineer John’s dad, who flew in from California. Mr. Taseff treated us to an avocado-filled dinner at Chili’s which all the kids greatly enjoyed.

Right now, I’m typing this in a camp chair in a field that sounds like the inside of a generator, smells like grass, and is littered with trucks, trailers, and sleepy engineers trying to finish their necessary alterations before Tech inspections open at 8 AM tomorrow. We hope to pass Tech early, get through the brake test, and jet on to the dynamic events!


*Spot, the car we raced last year, was mostly built by older Baja students who left the team before it was race worthy. We finished the car and brought it to comp, but without an understanding for the design process, and certainly without any documentation of it. We scored 20/200 points in the design presentation last year.

First day at comp

Pack up!! On Tuesday night we were up in the auto bay packing and finishing up Knuckles until midnight. We got him all prim and proper with shiny new carbon panels, numbers, and a pretty indestructible CVT guard. Hopefully the judges agree. Then we took knuckles for a little joy ride and packed him into the trailer. The solar car team lent us their 20 ft trailer which was already outfitted with tool chests and shelves, a huge step up from our tiny trailer. We borrowed their lights and generator which allowed us to bring the welder, drill press, grinders, and a bunch of other tools which last year we had to borrow from other teams. This year is a whole new game. We know what SAE is up to and we’re prepared with tools and a car that will hopefully pass tech inspection with ease.

We all arrived in Pittsburg last night between the hours of 12 and 2 AM. The drive took us over 14 hours – there might be worm holes between Chicago and Kansas. Drivers be warned. After a healthy four hours of sleep, we got back into the truck and drove to the Kansas Technology Center.  We arrived at 8 AM, but it seems most people got there way before that. The first 30 cars were already lined up for the Briggs and Stratton governor test, which means we have to wait until tomorrow to start tech. We got a great pit assignment – number 40.  We’re right on the edge of the parking lot next to a tree where we plan to hang up our hammock tomorrow.

The newly christened Solar trailer parked at our pit location

The newly christened Solar trailer parked at our pit location

Our biggest tasks today were getting the team registered, picking up all 25 of our free t-shirts, and getting through the business presentation – 50 points. The business presentation was a new event, and some of the freshmen really took charge of working out a powerpoint slide show and all of the best selling points on the car. They killed the presentation and handled the judges' questions without any problems. We’ll see how the scores come out, but I think we’re all winners here.

The afternoon was spend sleeping and playing cards before a monstrously delicious BBQ dinner. Tomorrow holds the design presentation – 200 pts – and a lot of standing in lines waiting to get through tech. Hopefully there won’t be thunder storms.

Final countdown to Kansas

Moving out! We just got approval to use the F-250, and Solar has generously allowed us to borrow their generator and trailer! Tonight we’ll be putting the final touches on Knuckles – tightening up the gearbox and getting all those finger guards to spec – before we load him into the trailer and get ready to go.

Jane and Knuckles are psyched for Kansas comp

Jane and Knuckles are psyched for Kansas comp

We’ve got a great team of 11 kids going, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the excitement of comp. You can keep up with the scoring and some of the Pittsburg events and information here.

Bon voyage!

Driving Days

Knuckles Works!!

John and Spot having a grand time in the mud

John and Spot having a grand time in the mud

We took Knuckles and Spot out to Cliff's Insane Terrain over in Marseilles, IL and had a riot of a time. Both cars ran great! Knuckles is vastly superior to Spot in control and maneuverability, but Spot still has a bit of thunder left in him. Well, he did until Faye here rolled him over onto his side.

Faye, before she was covered in mud

Faye, before she was covered in mud

Knuckles had great speed for a while, but after an hour or two of heavy driving, he lost his power. We think it’s something in the gearbox. Perhaps a shaft broke, but we’ll have to get back to the shop and take it all apart. John’s worried he may have to redesign and manufacture the whole thing in fewer than two weeks. We shall see.

Faye wrestling Spot back onto his wheels

Faye wrestling Spot back onto his wheels

Knuckles the Baja is (almost) complete

Today was the big day – the 2014 official unveiling of the Baja and Formula vehicles of this year!  Proudly posed to show off our suspension travel, Knuckles was out today with the team to show off our hard work over the past 8 months since the car’s inception.  The car is running and just about there – only a few things to tune and finishing touches to add before we’re ready to go play in the mud.  A huge thanks to our many sponsors seen here, and everyone who has had a hand in making this car a reality.

Baja springs ahead

We’re back from Spring Break and back to work on Baja!  We finished up Winter Quarter just short of a rolling chassis, and we are now working out some final kinks in the assembly.  Unfortunately, the custom half-shafts we ordered turned out to be 3 inches shorter than what we ordered.  We are currently waiting for the correct shafts to come in, but we have made some good progress on the car.

Front pedal and reservoir assembly

Front pedal and reservoir assembly

Rear wheels and hubs

Rear wheels and hubs

Drivetrain and rear braking assemblies

Drivetrain and rear braking assemblies

We also recently secured sponsorship with Albany Steel & Brass Corp. who gave us a bunch of fasteners.  Thanks!

Once we get the half-shafts in we plan to finish Knuckles and take her out for a couple test drives on campus before doing some more testing at a local off-road vehicle park in May. We’re excited to be on schedule for our May 22-25th race in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Blizzard Baja Cancelled

Due to insane blizzard storms, the Blizzard Baja has been cancelled and rescheduled for next month. We had incredible momentum and unmanageable exhaustion, so this news is both a huge relief and a huge blow to moral. Tomorrow we regroup to surge towards victory!!! and completion. With a little luck, we can still take Knuckles out to a motor park this weekend for a little test driving, but for now we will catch up on sleep and do some homework.

Rest up!

4 days

Sunday funday?

Knuckles resembles a racecar! Eric and Joe got crunching on finger guards for the CVT. Sarah reamed out all of the fancy tabs we waterjetted yesterday while Joel coped the tubes for the A-arms. Mikey was smoking up the shop doing some incredibly exact boring on the lathe. Mike and John started welding tabs around noon and we now have places to attach our suspension arms, lap belts, and best of all, KNUCKLES HAS HIS FIRST WHEEL!!!!!!  That’s right. We have a steering wheel.

Knuckles' first wheel :')

Knuckles' first wheel :')

6 days

We’ve been chip chip chipping away at tasks on the car. There’s so much to be done! We’ve been divvying out ‘small tasks’ to everyone who is not directly attached to a design project, while the people who are designing finish up their parts or start manufacturing them. This way, everyone’s been designing and building at a freaky fast pace, and Knuckles looks more and more like a race car.  

John tried out the new Haas which was set up last week, and he machined out rear uprights! Mike has been water jetting our front uprights and tabs, so hopefully we’ll have some pictures of that to show you soon. Thanks for checking in!

John's/Knuckle's shiny new rear uprights

John's/Knuckle's shiny new rear uprights

9 days...

We had a stellar night. A bunch of kids came out to work and were able to finish our front axles which are getting heat treated tomorrow! We cut and mounted our skid plate as well as our engine mount. The car is beginning to look like a car, and after a bunch of new parts and stock come in tomorrow we’ll be that much closer to getting it all put together.

Mike Jastram trying out the (eventual location of the) driver's seat and holding onto a very maneuverable wheel.

Mike Jastram trying out the (eventual location of the) driver's seat and holding onto a very maneuverable wheel.

10 days until comp

Kids have been in the shop for 6-12 hours every day for the past week and we aren’t slowing down. We’ve got body panels on and John and Mike and Eric have been going to town on the tabs. Also John – after hours on the CNC and covering himself from neck to feet with greasy coolant – has successfully made us a gearbox!!! Boxes of raw materials and parts are arriving every day! We’ve yet to get our half shafts or EDMed parts back, but they should be here soon. It’s getting to be quite a pinch with ordering parts that will make it here on time, but we’re nearing the end. Other than master cylinders we should be done with all major components. If only we could get them all manufactured in time…

John  loves  his gearbox

John loves his gearbox

Mikey's suspension links

Mikey's suspension links

Steering arm by Mike

Steering arm by Mike