Penn College’s Baja SEA wins race twice in three weeks
During the past decade, Pennsylvania College of Technology emerged as a top contender in the prestigious Baja SAE endurance race with several top-10 finishes. During the past month, the Penn College team established itself as the best in the world with two victories.
In a race earlier this month, Penn College topped a 77-car field in Palmyra, New York, to win the four-hour endurance race at Baja SAE Rochester. Three weeks earlier, the team captured the endurance competition at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech. At both events, Penn College bested the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Cornell, Rochester Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech.
“I’m overwhelmed by the team’s performance,” said John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and adviser to Penn College’s Baja SAE club since its inception 17 years ago. “Winning the race once was amazing, but winning twice in three weeks over such outstanding schools is unbelievable. I couldn’t be prouder!”
Conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Baja competitions require teams to design, manufacture and build a single-seat, all-terrain vehicle to survive various challenges. The endurance race – featuring rough terrain and tight turns – is regarded as Baja SAE’s preeminent event.
“It’s hard enough just to finish the endurance race, let alone win it,” Upcraft said. “The students did a masterful job throughout the year designing, building and testing the car so it could be fast and very durable.”
At Baja SAE Rochester, 15 cars completed fewer than 10 laps. In winning the race, Penn College recorded 57 laps, one lap more than runner-up University of Santa Cruz do Sul, a private university in Brazil.
“The race was one heck of a fight. The pack of cars vying for the top five positions was tight throughout. We didn’t really break away from the competition until the last 30 minutes or so,” explained Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, Baja club vice president and one of two Penn College drivers for the endurance race.
Penn College began the race in the second spot, a result of the team’s showing in the acceleration competition, one of four dynamic events held the previous day. By the end of the first lap, Harrison had the team’s 311-pound car in first, a position it held for most of the race.
“The course had a lot of elevation changes and maneuverability challenges,” Harrison said. “One section in the woods was so tight that you could barely squeeze one car through it.”
Upcraft credited Harrison and Tyler J. Bandle, of Slatington, for navigating “a perfect race.” The lone pit stop was a planned one to change drivers and fuel. “To win, we had to run a clean race, and that’s what we did,” Upcraft said.
A collection of mud that jammed the car’s brake pedal in the race’s second half caused concern for a few minutes. However, Bandle dislodged the mud by repeatedly changing speeds and avoided a costly trip to the pits.
“Tyler didn’t panic. He used his head and was able to solve the problem on the course,” Harrison said. “That was key for us in maintaining the lead.”
In addition to Penn College and University of Santa Cruz do Sul, Rochester Institute of Technology, École de technologie supérieure (a Montreal university) and Michigan finished in the top five.
“The performance of the college’s Baja team the past month has been unprecedented in school history,” remarked Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “Of course, their success in recent weeks is rooted in their tremendous work throughout the year to prepare for these competitions. Their countless hours have paid off, and they’ve established quite a legacy for future teams to build upon.”
The team is losing six members who recently graduated: Harrison and Dominic J. Lepri, of Monroe Township, N.J., manufacturing engineering technology; Bandle, automated manufacturing technology and machine tool technology; Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, N.J., automotive technology management; Morgan R. Bagenstose, of Reading, engineering design technology; and Caleb J. Harvey, of Pittsgrove, N.J., automated manufacturing technology.
“I can’t think of a better way to end our senior year than by becoming the most decorated Baja team in the college’s history,” Harrison said. “We have a lot of younger students on the team who are going to step up next year. They have shown that they have the drive and talent to continue our success.”
Underclassmen who assisted at Baja SAE Rochester are manufacturing engineering technology students Arjun L. Kempe, of Perkasie; Alec D. Rees, of Centerport, N.Y.; and Isaac H. Thollot, of Milford; engineering design technology student Marshall W. Fowler, of Sellersville; and Alex E. Flores, of Bowie, Md., a welding & fabrication engineering technology student.
“I’m very thankful for the remarkable team and the invaluable support of the college and our sponsors,” Upcraft said. (The team’s lead sponsors were the Gene Haas Foundation, Lycoming Engines and PMF Industries Inc.) “Everything and everyone came together to make this a dream Baja season.”