Grove City College Racing will host the Baja Butler Bash this weekend, marking a milestone for students in a campus organization that designs, builds and races off-road vehicles.
The college’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) club will host Baja racing teams from other colleges and universities at the daylong competition Saturday, Nov. 13 at SwitchbackMX, an off-road track on state Route 8 north of Butler, Pa. Admission is $3. Concessions will be available, but bleacher space is limited, so spectators are encouraged to bring their own seating.
Teams will spend the day putting the cars they’ve designed and improved upon through their paces in competition with teams from Pitt, Purdue, Miami of Ohio, Buffalo, Ohio Northern and other colleges and universities.
It is the first time that the College’s SAE club has hosted a Baja event, according to club President Zach Sprys ’22, a Mechanical Engineering major from Pittsburgh.
“This event is unique because it is a single-day event, unlike other Baja races. We also invite all the schools to bring as many cars as they want, unlike other events that only allow two cars to participate,” Sprys said. “We are expecting over 130 students on race day.”
Over the course of the day, teams will prove their cars are track worthy, demonstrate their hill-climbing ability and grind it out in the main event – the endurance race – which begins at 2 p.m. “It is a four-hour non-stop race meant to test the car’s engineering and design. If the team has a good car, it should go through no problem. But if it breaks, then they need to take it back to the pits, get it repaired and head back out to make up the lost laps,” Sprys said.
Getting cars in shape for the race and getting them back into the action when something goes wrong is at the heart of Baja SAE, which is really an engineering and design program. Students design, build, maintain and race the cars, which are stripped-down, utilitarian vehicles built around a standard 10hp Briggs & Stratton engine and designed to withstand harsh elements and rough terrain, according to Dr. Vernon W. Ulrich, SAE adviser and professor of Mechanical Engineering.
The College’s club will be racing three cars Saturday, including a new one that was built just last year. After the race, they’ll be retiring their oldest car. But instead of scrapping it, students are going to turn it into an electric vehicle. Electric cars aren’t allowed at SAE events, but the club is preparing for a potential electric Baja race in the future.
Grove City College students benefit from the SAE Baja competition in several ways. They learn about automotive engineering, mechanical design, teamwork and sportsmanship as they build and race their cars and they can make critical connections for their post-graduate lives through events.
“Honda recruiters will tell you that 70 percent of the engineers they hire have raced Baja. A few years ago, they named Grove City College as a top 10 school they would like to recruit from. I’m sure our Baja program was a big part of that designation,” Ulrich said. “If you are in the transportation industry and want to recruit engineers that love cars, where do you go? Where all the car nuts hang out – at the races. Dozens of engineering grads have joined the transportation industry in the past 15 years we have been doing Baja.”
Grove City College Racing is sponsored by the College, Hovis Auto & Truck Supply, Hunter Truck, Valvoline Express Care and many SAE club alumni.