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


Yes. After halfway through our six day weekend, we finally hit Saturday. And it hit us back.

We started a little late and missed our first call to the technical inspections by five minutes. We waited in the drizzling rain for 3 1/2 hours trying to pass tech. Somehow, our drip pan was the only thing that kept us from passing. Everything else was great! Good work last night, everybody. By the time we got our beautiful shiny tech inspection stickers, the sun was out and the dust was drying out the dirt to make it a humid, dusty, mess.

Drizzly weather for a tech inspection

Drizzly weather for a tech inspection

With our new tech sticker, we went back to our trailer to work on the brakes. We thought we had them balanced ok and ran the car out to the brake test – around 1/4 mile across a bumpy field, pushing the car because you aren’t allowed to run your car before you pass the brake inspection. Thus, when we didn’t pass the brake test, we had to shove the car all the way back to the pits, and then all the way back again once we had it fixed.  When we went back the last time, we ran. Ben, our brakes expert and the lightest driver on the team, rode and the remainder of the team took shifts pushed the car at top speed back out to the test track with only 10 minutes to spare before the test center closed for the rest of comp. But then, there we were. Ben jumped out and Mike in full safety gear hopped in in record time, and we passed! We made it. We can compete.

But four of the five dynamic events were about to close in 5 minutes. RUN!!! Now that we were allowed to drive the car across the competition center, Ben and Jane ran alongside the car to the acceleration test track. We were able to run the test twice before they closed down and we had to walk to car back to the pit, sweating and burning in the hot Kansas sun yet so happy we're able to compete in the endurance race tomorrow.

Track walk. At 5:30 there was a final meeting with the event coordinators (hooray for the volunteers!!!) and then everyone got to walk through the track for the endurance course. It doesn’t look too bad. Kansas is pretty flat after all. No creeks. No trees. Lots of jumps, telephone poles, and bulldozer dug trenches. We’ll see how we do tomorrow.

Tonight we made the very difficult decision to let the seniors race tomorrow. We wanted all of the freshmen to race – they’ve earned it. But so did the seniors. And tomorrow, Will, Mike and Jane will take their last laps as Northwestern Baja members. Let’s hope it’s awesome!!!

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.

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.