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A UMD racer in the clean Snowmobile Challenge - University of Minnesota Duluth
Joe Lofgren races the UMD sled in the 2014 SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge.

UMD's New Technology Turns Heads at the Clean Snowmobile Challenge

clean-snowmobile team
Members of UMD's Clean Snowmobile Team: Brandon Salaba, Kyle Schroer, Eric Skare, Dylan Dahlheimer, Joe Lofgren, Kyle Levanen, Heather Tinus, Nicole Sovde, and Charlie Gordon.

The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) was in full force at the 2014 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge held in early March.

The first day they passed inspection, barely. On the second day, they made it to finish line in the 100-mile Endurance Run, but it was on the third day, that everything changed.

Each team gave a presentation about their snowmobile. The slides flashed across the screen, students talked, and judges took notes. But when UMD's team showed the audience its roller bearing drive sprocket, the atmosphere in the room became charged with excitement.

Kyle Levanen, one of the UMD student team leaders, said it was dramatic. "We got to the slide on the drive sprocket and every head in the room turned, everybody was instantly alert. People stood up. Industry professionals asked one question after the next, and it didn't stop until long after the presentation was over."

Team president, junior Joe Lofgren, said, "No one had ever brought anything like it to the Challenge before." And then another development took the group by surprise. "A couple of industry professionals told us to get a patent on it right away," Lofgren said.

Brandon Salaba and Joe Lofgren designed the drive sprocket. "The engine was a good motor so we looked in other areas for redesign," Lofgren said. "Most solid enhancements come from drive line efficiencies." Roller bearing drive sprockets are found in other tracked machinery.

The drive sprocket design secured the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation for the UMD team. The new design is especially beneficial because it can reduce track friction.

This year, engineering undergraduates worked on the sled and attended the competition, including Eric Skare, Brandon Salaba, Joe Lofgren, Kyle Levanen, Dylan Dahlheimer, Kyle Schroer, Heather Tinus, Nicole Sovde, and Charlie Gordon.

“The competition was fun and stressful,” said Levanen. “Our group was all new and we had to compete with other teams who had been doing it for years."

Eric Skare said he was exhausted at the end of each day. "I got nervous. We were concentrating and working hard. We knew that at any moment something could break, melt off, or snap, and we would have to take the sled apart and fix it."

Lofgren, who drove the snowmobile in two of the events, said it took concentration. During the Objective Handling Event, a half-mile course, Lofgen had to stay between the flags without knocking them down. "I had to dodge flags and rough spots and make it around the course as fast as possible." Lofgren finished the race with a sharp turn and as required, he brought the snowmobile to a stop inside a box.

Salaba, a senior, said he is sure the experience will help him get a job. "At the competition, we got technical help from vendors and professionals," he said. "I learned so much in those few days. I can build off the knowledge I gained and use it to help others later."

The UMD snowmobile club is a student life organization with the mission to reengineer an existing snowmobile to reduce emissions, noise, fuel economy and compete in the annual Clean Snowmobile Challenge.  Members range from freshman to seniors and come from all backgrounds, although, most members are from the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (MIE). Four members worked on the snowmobile but were unable to attend the Challenge: Andrew Nelson, Spencer Johnson, Mark Boeckmann, and Brenden Bungert.   

The advisors for the team are Emmanuel Enemuoh, an associate professor, and Jose Carrillo, an instructor, both in MIE. "Carrillo was very knowledgeable about materials and setting up team," said Skare. "He encouraged us and pushes us forward. He's also enthusiastic about the patent process." The team also spoke highly of Professor Enemuoh. "He was invaluable," said Lofgren. "He was able to get us permission to try the snowmobile out on the UMD campus, and he held with the financing and the big purchases."

"We want to thank Arctic Cat and Polaris Industries, who donated sleds," said Enemuoh. "We really appreciate the many other sponsors who donated parts or monetary funds to keep the project moving forward. These sponsors include Cliffs Natural Resources, Klim, Heraeus, Lake Superior Consulting, New Page, US Steel, Camoplast, RJ Sport and Cycle, Performance Electronics, Woody’s, Micro Squirt, Northern Tool, GPM Inc, Kolar and Chesney Auto Parts." The MIE department lends the usage of their shop. The UMD snowmobile team is an ongoing, year-long project. Lofgren had one more person to recognize, "I would like to thank Darrell Anderson for the dedication of his time and wisdom in helping us get this far."

All of the students agree that designing and building a vehicle for an SAE competition requires ingenuity, rigorous engineering documentation, and commitment above and beyond the standard university curriculum. Succeeding at the SAE Challenge highlights the students’ mastery of a variety of technologies.

BASF Award image Students receive clean snow award
Drum roll... and the winner is... UMD earned the BASF Corporation Award for Innovation. Here the BASF representative presents a plaque to Joe Lofgren and Brandon Salaba from UMD.
Joe Lofgen with the Charlie Gordan raced in one of the events.
Joe Lofgren with the team's roller bearing drive sprocket. Charlie Gordon rode the sled in the Endurance event.

Michigan Technological University, which hosted the event, experienced the snowiest winter in years, with temperatures solidly sub-freezing, ideal conditions for this Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Here engineering students in the internal combustion category took a stock snowmobile and reengineer it. Their aim was to reduce emissions and noise and increase fuel efficiency while preserving the riding excitement demanded by snowmobile enthusiasts.

UMD faced a fiercely competitive field. In a contest traditionally marked by breakdowns and uncertain beta-version technologies, the sleds this year were remarkably reliable. On the second day of the Challenge, UMD made it to finish line in the 100-mile Endurance Run. Nine sleds made it out of ten in competition. In previous years, this event was almost guaranteed to winnow out half the entrants.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge was sponsored at Michigan Tech by the Keweenaw Research Center and the Department of Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics. For more information on the Challenge, see

Written by Cheryl Reitan, March 2014.

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