EL PASO — Wearing tight-fitting safety glasses, two engineering students concentrate on turning pieces of metal on a lathe hoping to create the perfect component for an impressive Baja Buggy that they hope will catch the attention of recruiters.
The students at work in an engineering workshop on the University of Texas at El Paso campus belong to Mad Pete’s Motorsports, a team of mechanical engineers who are part of the national Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE). Their goal is to construct buggies — modified off-road motor vehicles — to compete in the Big Baja Society of Automotive Engineering event that takes outside the UTEP Student Recreation Center from April 24 – 27.
Although UTEP has participated in the Baja Buggy Race for over three decades, it has been 16 years since the school hosted the annual SAE event on campus. This time over 100 teams from around the world will compete here to see which ones have the best engineering skills to build efficient, safe, responsive buggies. As the hosting team, the UTEP students who belong to Mad Pete’s Motorsports are hoping to snag some awards, such as the top honor of ‘Best Overall Work’ like they did back in 1988.
Recruiters from multiple car companies like General Motors, Polaris and Honda, who also are sponsors of the competition, will attend to check out the students’ handiwork and possibly offer some jobs.
The Mad Pete’s Motorsports team consists of two groups, one with experienced students and another of first-time participants in the contest. This is the first time UTEP will have two groups competing in the SAE event.
Team leader Carla Baez is participating for the second time and has already experienced some of the possible mechanical glitches that can occur during the competition. Last year, when UTEP participated in the SAE Baja Race held in Bellingham, Washington, students ran into problems with the buggy’s transmission.
“In the past we have had really important parts of the vehicle break down during the race. Last year it happened with the suspension, so this year we are remaking the suspension,” said Baez, 20, a mechanical engineering major.
Not only does the team have to worry about the suspension, but all mechanical systems have to run smoothly to make it through all four tests. The teams will be judged in four categories: durability, reliability and performance, plus cost and appearance.
First-time participant Randy Varela, 21, a senior mechanical engineering major, is playing a major role in working on the safety components of the buggy. “My responsibility is designing safe, lightweight, and strong body panels which protect the driver from any debris during the competition, as well as the wiring for the vehicle,” he said.
As the competition and the end-of-the-semester approach, the engineering students are spending countless late-night hours working on their efficient buggies while struggling with classes and homework.
“The obstacles that we have are that we do this on our own time,” said Baez. “We are all engineering students and we all have hard classes to put up with so trying to find time to get together or even sacrificing study time can sometimes get tough.”
The students know their engineering skills will be put to the test during the four-day event, as each vehicle undergoes rigorous trials, including vehicle acceleration, brakes, maneuvers and climbing a rocky hill.
Brakes Captain MarkGonzalez, 22, also a mechanical engineering major, is currently designing and setting up the brake system for both teams. “We will test all the cars’ strengths and speeds against each other on the UTEP track,” he said.
As the day of the event approaches, the UTEP teams are looking for plenty of support from UTEP students and the local community.
“People should attend the competition so they can show support not only for the local teams like UTEP and NMSU, but international students as well,” Varela said.
“These students are the future of engineering and this event gives spectators just a sample of what we as students are capable of,” he added.
Two other SAE events will be held this year at the University of Kansas May 22-25 and the University of Illinois on June 4-7.