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UMD's Society of Automotive Engineers Racecar Team

Not everyone dreams of building a racecar in college. From nuts and bolts, fiberglass and metal, UMD undergraduates are designing and constructing a streamline racecar from motor to wheels. They accelerate, they brake; they grip the turf with northern tenacity. Those who can, inspire inventiveness.

UMD's SAE racecar team

UMD's SAE racecar team with faculty advisor Dan Pope (back row, third from right).

What happens when you mix creativity with engineering? You get a racecar that opens doors to competition.

“All of our work,” said UMD senior mechanical engineering student Ben Logan, “is to prepare in competing against other universities in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) event in May 2013 at the Michigan Speedway."

With paper, mind, and knowledge, the UMD SAE Race Team begins with an idea, formulates a plan, and then builds an aerodynamic machine that can withstand high speed, instant braking, and a race course that’s right up there with auto-cross. In other words, the racecar isn’t just for show. While building the car, students follow the Formula SAE rules and guidelines. The measurement regulations are fairly similar to nationally-known racing organizations.

“When we bring our car to the May event,” said UMD junior Vadim Vechirko, “the judges inspect the vehicle from every angle based on the Formula SAE guidelines. It is very real.”

During the competition, a variety of events either prove or negate the creative and intellectual sophistication. The events include a static portion where the students present a cost report that examines every nuance considered an expense.

 “We even report the number of times a student has to turn a screwdriver. Time is labor,” said Logan, “and labor is cost.”

 The cost report also contains information about the production process, especially if materials were made in-house or if they were outsourced. Donations are figured in and for the 2012 team members they were fortunate to receive, among many other contributions, a generous portion of carbon fiber donated by Cirrus in Duluth. The material was taken into design consideration, and then molded into the exterior shell that covers the entire frame of the car.

 After the static events, the racecar is brought to its limits on a variety of tracks during the dynamic events phase that incorporates a series of courses driven by the students in their respective cars. One of the first dynamic events is at an 87-yard sprint course where time is of the essence.

The faster it’s driven, the better.  

Once the 87-yard sprint course is completed, racers move on to a figure eight testing strip where each racer completes it twice with the second run recorded. This is when the racecar proves its grip and tenacious build.
 “By the end of the dynamic events,” said faculty advisor Dan Pope, “the tires have to be replaced.”

As advisor of the student club, Pope oversees the operations from idea to race day “but it’s entirely owned by the students. I’m here to make sure they have everything they need at the May event, but they are the reason it’s built and considered race-worthy. It’s incredible to see it all come together.”

Even though the spring event expects a certain level of competition, the SAE community is based on collaboration and cohesiveness. During a previous year when UMD raced against Mankato, the event announcer called out over loudspeaker that the UMD team was in need of a slave cylinder.

“Mankato walked over about ten minutes later with a spare cylinder,” said Logan. “They were happy to lend it to us. We return that favor to other racers whenever we can because that’s the motto that the racing community thrives on. We’re here for each other, and we learn by asking different teams about their designs and race techniques.”

When it comes to collaboration, the UMD team members agree that the contributions and financial backing from a variety of businesses, organizations, and local community citizens are the reason for their club's success.

"We couldn't do all of this without their help," said Logan, gesturing at the quiet, sleek, and track-ready racecar.

UMD SAE Team Comments

Vadim Vechirko:
“Before I joined this club, I knew nothing about car design. Design a racecar? I didn’t think I could do it or even get into it, but I did. This has been a great experience. It’s realistic, it’s real world application, and everyone’s input is valuable.”

Ben Logan:
“When I was a freshman taking core basics, I was extremely turned off by engineering. Why do I want to be an engineer? But then I met people from the club, and they were far more optimistic. They were actually doing things with engineering. So I attended the first club meeting. I ended up studying the car for four hours—I was hooked.”

Karl Larson:
“I was in my sophomore year, just having completed Calculus Two. I realized that my classes weren’t turning into what I wanted to be or do—was this really me? How is this an engineer? But then I went to a club meeting and realized that my Calculus class fit right into the concept of building a racecar. I’ve also pushed myself to be more of a leader by being assistant team captain. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the club. It’s amazing to see something built that you put hours into from an idea to a whole entire car.”

Those Who Can, Duluth



Written by Christiana Kapsner, December 2012

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