Collaboration leads to test track for Penn College Baja team
A student-driven partnership between the Baja team and the heavy construction equipment technology program resulted in the creation of a quarter-mile test track through the woods at the college’s operations training site near Allenwood. The track replicates conditions the team will face at Baja competitions conducted by SAE International, an organization for engineering professionals.
The events require schools to design, manufacture and build a single-seat, all-terrain vehicle to survive various challenges. The toughest test is a four-hour endurance race that usually features about 90 entrants.
Penn College has posted 10 top-10 finishes in the endurance race since 2011, but the addition of the practice track has the 18-member team aiming for the top spot in 2022.
“This will be a much better environment for us to test the car because it’s sort of the environment we’re going to see in a race,” said Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, a manufacturing engineering technology student and Baja club vice president. “This isn’t a nice, smooth rail trail. This is exactly what we’re looking for. This is a good, wide, well-cleared – but not perfectly even – trail.”
“The chance to go out and really push the car, especially in some of the tight turns, is exciting. It opens so many opportunities for us for testing and tuning,” added Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, New Jersey, an automotive technology management student and club treasurer.
Baja team members designed the trail and secured the support of Ryan W. Peck, instructor of diesel equipment technology, to make it a reality. Peck and three experienced students – all seeking an associate degree in heavy construction equipment technology: operator emphasis – spent a semester clearing about three tractor-trailer loads of brush to carve out the track.
“I was excited to do this,” said Clayton G. Link, of Gallitzin. “It’s different clearing out stuff rather than just digging dirt all day. When it’s in piles, you just make sure it doesn’t break up and come back into the machine. And then you make sure you’re level and not rocking.”
In addition to Link, Mikey C. Engel, of Williamsport, and Collin B. York, of Shamokin, helped clear the track.
“It’s a different learning experience for our equipment operators,” Peck explained. “My students got an opportunity to learn different experiences working in the woods, clearing trees, working with other students. And the Baja team got to learn how to communicate with an operator.”
Such collaboration pleased Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies.
“The end result of the practice track will benefit the Baja team for years to come. The experience of partnering with other students has an educational value that will also endure,” he said. “In today’s economy, it’s essential to be able to effectively communicate and work with individuals of different backgrounds and expertise to achieve a common goal.”
The heavy equipment students met the Baja team’s goal of a rugged track with sharp turns.
“We really appreciate what the heavy equipment folks did for us,” Singh said. “They’ve given us an outlet to test our car to the limits that we would not be able to test anywhere else.”
“I couldn’t be happier with what we have here,” Harrison said. “This is exactly what we were looking for.”
John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and longtime adviser to the college’s Baja SAE club, believes the track is more difficult than what the team will encounter when it competes in Cookeville, Tennessee, in May and Rochester, New York, in June.
“That’s what you want to have. You want to make your practice course tougher than the actual course,” he said. “That’s how we really test our components and see if they’re going to hold up.”
At its last competition – Baja Louisville in May – Penn College finished third in the endurance race with its 311-pound car, topping the likes of Michigan, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
“They put in a ton of time,” Upcraft said in praising the team. “The competition we have is incredible. And if you’re not spending that kind of time in designing, building, testing and tuning, you’re going to be left behind.”
For more information on Penn College’s Baja SAE team and sponsorship opportunities, visit College Relations.
For information on degrees offered by Penn College’s School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.
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