Husker Baja SAE team gears up for California road trip




Husker Baja SAE team gears up for California road trip

Calendar Icon May 18, 2016      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Driver Eric Rice pilots the Husker Racing Baja SAE car through a water crossing during an April competition in Cookeville, Tennessee. The team took fifth place at that event and competes this weekend in Gorman, California.
Driver Eric Rice pilots the Husker Racing Baja SAE car through a water crossing during an April competition in Cookeville, Tennessee. The team took fifth place at that event and competes this weekend in Gorman, California.
Fresh off one of the best performances in team history and recovering from the grind of finals week, the Husker Racing Baja SAE team is ready for a trip to sunny Southern California.

However, it’s not going anything close to a vacation for senior mechanical engineering major Joe Sheehan and his UNL teammates, who left Lincoln early Tuesday.

“We’re looking at a 36-hour drive, probably with only a couple stops,” Sheehan said. “When you get in the car and see the sun come up, then go down at night and come up again, that’s rough.”

The trip to Gorman, California, included a much-appreciated stop at the home of Mary and Dave Duncan in Grand Junction, Colorado. On the team’s Facebook page, a late Tuesday entry thanked the hosts for the meal of spaghetti and watermelon.

While the Husker Racing team may be a little tired when the competition begins Thursday, it will have plenty of adrenaline flowing thanks to a fifth-place finish at the Baja SAE event in Cookeville, Tennessee, in late April.

Sheehan said that finish was one of the best ever for the team and a sign that Husker Racing is again among the nation’s top programs.

“We got a third place my freshman year (2013) and there was a fourth place the year before. But we’ve been among the better teams for quite a while even though the competition level is ever increasing,” said Sheehan, the team’s treasurer.

The Husker team took fifth overall but was first in vehicle dynamics, which assigns points for top finishes in many competitions – UNL was second in suspension and in the top 13 in all other categories except for design presentation.

College teams are given design specifics they must adhere to and budgets they must stay within as they build a car to compete in three four-day, off-road events across the country.

Teams register at the event site on Wednesday and begin competition on Thursday with a sales presentation in which they pitch their prototype car to professionals from the transportation industry. On Friday, there is a design competition judged by professional designers and a cost competition.

Saturdays are “the first fun day,” Sheehan said, as teams have four racing events, which vary depending on the host site.

“Sometimes there’s a hill climb or a rock crawl,” Sheehan said. “It just depends on what’s available at that location.”

The Sunday endurance race caps the competition with a thrilling battle over a circuit at least 2 miles in length. The courses include all kinds of challenges, including two water crossings on the Tennessee course.

Teams strive to complete the most laps in the four-hour race but, Sheehan said, the starts of each endurance race are quite thrilling and nerve-wracking.

“Unlike the Formula SAE teams, which run time trials, we get to race against all the other cars,” Sheehan said. “In Baja, they line everyone up, drop the flag and it’s a 100-team free-for-all.

“To be competitive, you have to keep one driver in the car as much as you can, and we’re lucky to have a very good one, Eric Rice. He’s the team captain and the lead designer for the car, so he has a lot invested in what’s happening.”

Getting the car to the competitions requires plenty of work before the team leaves Lincoln. There’s months of design and trials and striving to find places to test the car. The Husker Racing team has been able to run on the motocross track at the Abbott Sports Complex near 70th Street and Interstate 80 and occasionally on nearby land owned by the family of team members.

As competition nears, the pressure increases, Sheehan said. In the week before the Tennessee event, the Husker Racing team pulled “nearly an entire week of all-nighters” preparing for the safety inspections that come early in the four-day competitions.

“We just had a frame and a motor on Monday that week, and somehow we got it done,” Sheehan said. “Once you have the finished car and it’s driving, there’s no better feeling than getting that sticker that allows you to drive the car. Considering the zero amount of physical testing we had, we outperformed our wildest expectations.

With the Baja SAE events taking place mostly in the early part of the summer break from school, some team members have to balance their availability with the demands of engineering internships or full-time jobs. Sheehan said most employers have been willing to allow team members to take time off for the competitions

Despite the experience he’s gained from four years on the Baja team, Sheehan isn’t certain he’d want to start his career in the automotive field, especially in design. But, he said, the experience from the team has given him a leg up for his future.

“Most companies realize that having Baja experience on your resume is a fantastic selling point for a potential employee,” Sheehan said. “They see how well prepared we are as engineers coming out of UNL.”