Penn College team excels at Baja SAE Louisville

Published 05.26.2021

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After a year’s absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Baja SAE team returned to action with a flourish, posting four top-10 results at Baja SAE Louisville.

The recent Society of Automotive Engineers competition – hosted by the University of Louisville – required students to design and build a single-seat, all-terrain sporting vehicle to meet various challenges. Penn College topped several prominent colleges and universities in the 78-car field, including Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

In dynamic events, Penn College finished first (acceleration), fourth (suspension) and eighth (maneuverability) before capping the competition with a third-place showing in the endurance race, considered Baja SAE’s toughest test.

The overall performance was Penn College’s best in the team’s 16-year history.

A team of Pennsylvania College of Technology students achieved outstanding results at the recent Baja SAE Louisville. The nationwide competition required teams to design and build a single-seat, all-terrain vehicle to survive various challenges. The Penn College team earned four top-10 showings, including first place in the acceleration event and third place in the endurance race, Baja SAE’s toughest test. Kneeling (from left) are Marshall W. Fowler, of Perkasie; Dominic J. Lepri, of Monroe Township, N.J.; and Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, N.J. Back row (from left) are Tyler J. Bandle, of Slatington; Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry; Christopher M. Schweikert, of Jamison; Morgan R. Bagenstose, of Reading; Caleb J. Harvey, of Elmer, N.J.; and Arjun L. Kempe, of Perkasie.“I couldn’t be prouder of the team and their effort,” said John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and longtime adviser to the college’s Baja SAE club. “Not being able to compete last year was difficult. There was even uncertainty surrounding this year’s event, but our team remained focused and persevered. Their hard work and commitment paid off.”

The college’s 311-pound car – the lightest the team has taken to Baja SAE – proved to be nimble, durable and fast. Maneuverability required the car to navigate a narrow obstacle course featuring extremely sharp turns. Suspension forced the vehicle over boulders, logs and other obstacles. Acceleration tested its straightaway speed for 100 feet. Penn College won with a time of 3.45 seconds.

“We were able to shave a lot of the car’s weight by using more titanium parts that we manufactured,” Upcraft said. “We had the car pretty much designed last year and about 60 percent built when the pandemic shut us down. This year’s students did a good job building on the solid foundation established by last year’s team.”

The vehicle was one of only four to complete 60 laps during the endurance race won by Iowa State. The cars had to survive rough terrain, jumps and plenty of tight turns throughout the four-hour marathon. Penn College recorded the fastest lap time of 3:12.928. The third-place showing was the team’s 10th top-10 finish in the endurance race since 2011.

Dakota C. Harrison, a manufacturing engineering technology student from Lewisberry, and Tyler J. Bandle, of Slatington, majoring in automated manufacturing technology, served as the car’s drivers.

“They did a good job,” Upcraft said. “Handling the car in the endurance race and the other events can be very difficult. I’m certain they benefited from time spent at our new practice track just before the competition.”

Last fall, heavy construction equipment technology students – under the direction of Ryan W. Peck, instructor of diesel equipment technology – cleared a path through the woods at the college’s 125-acre worksite near the Schneebeli Earth Science Center in Allenwood to mimic a typical Baja SAE course.

“We are grateful for their effort to create a practice track,” Upcraft said. “The course isn’t as long as the actual one is for the endurance race, but it has a straightaway, jumps, obstacles and sharp turns. It’s an excellent testing ground for us.”

In addition to Harrison and Bandle, members of the Baja team were manufacturing engineering technology students Caleb J. Harvey, of Elmer, New Jersey; Arjun L. Kempe, of Perkasie; Dominic J. Lepri, of Monroe Township, New Jersey; and Christopher M. Schweikert, of Jamison; engineering design technology students Morgan R. Bagenstose, of Reading, and Marshall W. Fowler, of Perkasie; and Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, New Jersey, majoring in automotive technology management.

 “All of us at the college are quite proud of the Baja team,” said Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “They proved to be resourceful in putting their skills to work in a nationwide competition featuring scores of outstanding colleges and universities. Their winning performance was inspiring and validates the college’s hands-on approach to education.”

“It’s always a mad dash at the end to finish the car and complete all the paperwork to enter the competition. Team members really stuck together and managed to handle all the extra work in addition to their normal school responsibilities,” Upcraft said.

He also praised the work of recent engineering design technology graduates Matthew J. Nyman and David Carlson for designing the car last year prior to the pandemic. Both are working in their chosen fields: Nyman at Shumaker Industries Inc., a concrete supplier in Northumberland, and Carlson at Advanced Cooling Technologies Inc., a thermal energy company in Lancaster.

“Dave and Matt serve as good examples of the benefits of participating in Baja SAE,” Upcraft said. “Potential employers are impressed by students who meet the demands of the competition because it is a real-world experience.”

Those demands will intensify next year. The team must transform the rear-wheel-drive car to four-wheel drive to meet new Baja SAE regulations.

“It’s a big task. Fortunately, we anticipate the design and machining challenges can be incorporated into some of the students’ senior projects,” Upcraft said. “We hope to race at two competitions next spring and expect to continue to be one of the top teams in Baja SAE nationwide.”

For information on Penn College’s various degrees offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, or call 570-327-4520.

The college is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free at 800-367-9222.