One hundred teams, including 30 international teams from eight countries, gathered at Budds Creek Motocross Race Track for the action-packed Baja SAE Maryland 2015 competition, hosted May 7-10 by UMBC’s College of Engineering and Information Technology and Department of Mechanical Engineering. The energy and excitement of the event were clear from the moment registration opened. Participant spots for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition were filled in just four minutes.
The UMBC Baja design, engineering, and racing team has become nationally recognized for exceptional performance over the past decade. This reputation led to SAE inviting UMBC to host this year’s Midwest event, one of three annual SAE competitions nationwide.
Most organizing universities have three years to prepare, but a last-minute location change to find the ideal track challenged UMBC’s organizing team to pull off the race with only six months to plan. The organizing committee, headed by Steven Storck ’08, ’09 M.S., ’14 Ph.D., mechanical engineering, brought together UMBC Baja alumni with representatives from University of Maryland, College Park and Johns Hopkins University to plan the event, with guidance from Neil Rothman, mechanical engineering graduate program director.
With their past competition experiences in mind, the organizing committee focused on what mattered most to participants: the race track and spectators. “Being a former Baja competitor, our main goal was to provide an exciting event that was focused around the engineering efforts of the student,” Storck shared.
The committee took an engineer’s approach to designing the race course to avoid potential scoring anomalies from tight turns and difficult obstacles. They also thought carefully about the race order, spending hours rearranging events and schedules to maximize the time competitors could display their hard work.
The committee also recognized that student participants want to share this experience, and the products of their work, with family and friends. They designed the race course so spectators could easily view the competing teams from one central location. Organizers also set up a high quality live webcast of the event to broaden the race’s audience. The livestream reached over 27,000 viewers in 124 countries. Videos of the entire first day and the Endurance Race are still available to view online.
During the competition, student teams presented their off-road race cars to engineering and business professionals, underwent strict technical inspections, and competed solo and wheel-to-wheel to prove their engineering skills. The organizers’ efforts paid off as events moved forward seamlessly. The wildly successful race garnered an unheard of 98% approval rating in a satisfaction survey following the event.
Sam Barill, head manager of SAE’s collegiate design series, praised the event, saying, “The Baja SAE competition recently held in Maryland and hosted by UMBC [demonstrated] top-notch organizing by Steven Storck and his group…and emphasized just how important these events are to the education and hands-on learning of future engineers.”
Neil Rothman, UMBC Baja team advisor, is enthusiastic about the skills students learn through participating in competitions like Baja SAE Maryland. “It is clear that engineering students benefit from experiential learning…hands-on activities where they can put engineering principles into practice,” he says.
“Baja is experiential learning on steroids,” Rothman explains. “This is ‘real engineering’ at its finest and the students who participate in Baja will stand out as those who understand how things should be designed and built. These are the skills companies are looking for.”
Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback from SAE, race participants, and families, UMBC has already started to explore hosting a future Baja race.