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!

Full Circle - Back to Tennessee for 2016 SAE Comp

One quick eight-hour drive brought us to the land of Cookeville, Tennessee! Twenty-one team members were able to make it out to competition, including ten very excited Motorkittens who had no idea what was in store.

A few people spent a good deal of the night before Technical Inspection doing some final rules fixes, mainly on the CVT guard, but we felt good about the shape Elbows was in for the following few days.

Putting the finishing touches on Elbows in the paddocks before Tech Inspection the following morning

In fact, we had the smoothest Tech in (known) NU Baja history! However, the line was moving pretty slowly, so by the time we were halfway through our first inspection, it was time to move over to our Design Presentation slot, and we hurried over to that area. Design also went extraordinarily well, and later we learned that we tied for 21st out of 100 teams in that event. We hopped back in line for Tech after that and passed with flying colors!

Design leads talking to the judges at the Design Presentation

Design leads talking to the judges at the Design Presentation

We passed Tech and Brakes!

We passed Tech and Brakes!

Saturday was spent doing the various dynamic events - acceleration, maneuverability, sled pull, and suspension. Acceleration and maneuverability went quite well, but we ran into some issues with our sled pull and suspension events. We'd never been to a competition with a sled pull event before, and it turns out that Elbows' tow hitch is a little too low to complete the sled pull. And at the suspension event, our kill switch position was at an unfortunate location, since both of our drivers' legs hit it halfway through the course. We did get some distance points on those though!

Zooming down the acceleration lane

Zooming down the acceleration lane

Mikey and Drew expertly navigated the Maneuverability course

Mikey and Drew expertly navigated the Maneuverability course

The little engine that (almost) could!

The little engine that (almost) could!

Sunday (Endurance Day) dawned bright and sunny. Some were more ready for it than others. Many of the 'Kittens valiantly volunteered as track workers for the four hour race and had a lot of fun doing it!

Alex (foreground) looks excited for the endurance race

Alex (foreground) looks excited for the endurance race

Track workers from left to right: Chris, Blake, Spencer, Steph, Gaurav, Connor, Joe H, and Brooke

Track workers from left to right: Chris, Blake, Spencer, Steph, Gaurav, Connor, Joe H, and Brooke

We're all really proud of how competitively Elbows performed during the race. We got six drivers into the seat and had a few quick pit stops to fix brake light wiring and a dented hub, but we were on the track for the majority of the four hours. Overall, we got 47th place in the competition, up from 71st in Maryland last year!

And of course - a bucket of water for our beloved cap'n

And of course - a bucket of water for our beloved cap'n

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.


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!!!