Students on UW-Stout’s Baja racing team enjoy being part of the club for many reasons, not the least of which are the practical application of skills learned in classes and networking with professionals from the national Society of Automotive Engineers.
This fall team members have enjoyed another perk: Bragging rights.
The weekend of Oct. 12-13, UW-Stout’s team took first overall in the Midnight Mayhem race in Louisville, Ky., beating out about 70 other schools and about 110 other Baja cars. Major schools like Purdue University, the University of Iowa, Iowa State, Marquette University and others from around the U.S. competed. The University of Louisville hosted the event.
“None of us really expected that,” said Tony Wierzba, team president, of the victory and bringing home a trophy. “It was a pretty successful weekend.”
UW-Stout won the four-hour night endurance race, held on a lap course on varying terrain. The car was in 49th place early in the race and gradually moved up. UW-Stout also took first overall for the weekend. A second event tested various aspects of a car’s construction, such as maneuverability, hill climbing and acceleration.
It’s believed to be the first time the UW-Stout club team has placed in the top 10 at such a large event. Team members rebuilt some parts of their car this fall before the race, including the steering and suspension, Wierzba said.
Baja cars, similar to dune buggies, are open-frame vehicles with stock 10 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engines. They can go up to about 40 mph, but the main challenge teams face is a rugged course. “They design the course to try to break your car,” said Wierzba, of Chetek, a junior majoring in engineering technology.
The Louisville event was nonsanctioned but similar in size to the sanctioned SAE national event in which the team will compete in the spring.
The UW-Stout team has about 20 members, four of whom went to Louisville. They are: Sean Durian, of Sussex; Colin Mittelstaedt, of Sussex; Jason Richardson, of Spring Valley; and Derrike Suckow, of Baldwin, who was the main driver.
Team members often are from engineering and related majors. “You can learn all this stuff in a book, but when you put it into action and apply it you learn so much more,” Wierzba said.
Wierzba had a co-op experience last summer through UW-Stout at the Bobcat manufacturing headquarters in North Dakota, working as a tooling engineer and helping design manufacturing equipment.
At SAE events team members have a chance to meet with industry professionals. Some companies conduct job interviews on site and having SAE-related activities on a resume is a plus, Wierzba said.
The team receives some funding from the Stout Student Association and through sponsorships from FedTech of Mounds View, Minn., and Prototype Solution Group of Menomonie.
UW-Stout’s team held its fall invitational Oct. 27-28 at a course near Eau Galle, with 10 teams competing.
UW-Stout's Baja race car.