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.

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

Tennessee Tech Series Results

We have completed our first competition in five years, and our team is so proud. We overcame many hurdles throughout the competition as we discovered tricks to doing well in each event, and how to manage time, tools and documents. We learned a ton and overcame a number of roadblocks that easily could have kept us out of the races. We're incredibly thankful to  have such an intelligent and resourceful team.  The scores from our competition are below!

311 out of 1000 points
62 Place out of 99

75 out of 300 points

52.4 out of 300 points

42.4 out of 100 points

10 out of 200 points

52.3 out of 75 points

22.5 out of 75 points

did not compete

did not compete

184 out of 400 points

Time for Tennessee Tech!

Thursday morning, the team will pull out of Northwestern and head south for our first official Baja SAE competition in four years!!!!

On April 18-21, we will race against 100 other cars at Tennessee Technical University. The first two days of the event are devoted to an extensive technical inspection and a design presentation. The weekend consists of dynamic events: acceleration, land maneuverability, sled pull, suspension and traction, and endurance. These events will fully test our skills as engineers to design against predicted challenges and to fix problems as they arise during the competition.

Competing in this competition is a monumental step for our young team.

For more information on the Baja SAE series, go to

Pictures from a snowy drive

This winter, we took the car out for a test drive in the snow. The car whipped right around on the layer of ice through the empty parking lot. Fortunately, there were enough tracks from other car for us to find snow-free patches of pavement so that we could get some speed to fly over the giant piles of snow that had been cleared earlier that day. The drifts were at least four feet high, but our little car just jumped right over them with no problem.

Mikey was our first freshman in the car! He had a couple of sweet spins out in the snow. After over an hour of doughnuts and blasting over the tallest, steepest parts of the snowbanks, we discovered that we had snapped one of the rod ends controlling steering on the right side of the car. Additionally, one of the the back rims on that side was sourly dented. In the pictures below, you can see our broken rod end as well as our car with it’s front wheels turned together. 

Spot's wheels turned inward

Spot's wheels turned inward

The broken rod end

The broken rod end

Winter Baja 2013 Results

Held at Michigan Technological University

This year, the air never got warmer than 16 degrees. We arrived at the paddocks to start inspecting and setting up the car at 6AM, central time. Michigan Tech had prepared a beautiful track for us–about 1 mile of twisting trail through trees, over hills, jumps, baseball fields and ditches.  We had a fantastic time and were very proud to finish every event with no technical failures.

By the end of the second endurance race, five cars had dropped out of the competition, and nine teams completed fewer than five laps, while the winners managed to finish 18 laps in the incredible mush that was the course by the end of the day. During the second race, Stephen Benson, our main designer and builder, raced incredibly well and held the team in 6th place for over an hour.

Race 1: Endurance
2 hours
max laps: 32
completed 25 laps
Northwestern: 22nd place

Race 2: Endurance
1:45 hours
max laps: 18
completed 18 laps
Northwestern: 14th place

Northwestern: 17 out of 47 teams