Penn College Baja SAE team captures coveted race victory

Published 05.18.2022

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For a decade, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Baja SAE team has placed among the nation’s elite in grueling endurance races. After Baja SAE Tennessee Tech, the team reigns supreme.

Penn College topped a 72-car field in Cookeville, Tennessee, on Sunday to win the endurance race for the first time, besting the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Cornell, Rochester Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Auburn and Texas A&M. The four-hour race, consisting of rugged terrain and tight turns, is Baja SAE’s marquee event.

Members of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Baja team surround the first-place trophy after winning the four-hour endurance race at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech. It’s the first time Penn College has won the event, considered the toughest test at Baja SAE competitions. From left: Marshall W. Fowler, Isaac H. Thollot, Dominic J. Lepri (sitting on front tire), Caleb J. Harvey, Dakota C. Harrison (standing on back tire), Tyler J. Bandle (standing on back tire), Dhruv Singh (behind trophy), Arjun L. Kempe, Morgan R. Bagenstose (sitting on front tire), Casey B. Campbell and Alex E. Flores. Conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the competition requires schools to design, manufacture and build a single-seat, all-terrain vehicle to survive various challenges.

“It’s so gratifying to win this race after being close in other years (10 top-10 finishes since 2011),” said John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and adviser to Penn College’s Baja SAE club since its inception 17 years ago. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m so proud of the team’s effort and the dedication they’ve shown in the months leading up to the competition. They have worked very hard for this moment. The victory is well-deserved.”

“This victory is not just the result of the effort from this year’s team. It’s the culmination of years of effort by past teams who established and built upon a solid foundation,” said Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, Baja club vice president and one of two Penn College drivers for the endurance race. “The realization of how many teams before us have been aiming for this makes our win somewhat surreal. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants today.”

Penn College began the endurance race in third position, a result of the team’s third-place showing in the acceleration competition, one of four dynamic events held the previous day.

By the end of the first 1.2-mile lap, Harrison navigated Penn College to the lead with École de technologie supérieure (a Montreal university) and Michigan in hot pursuit. The second half of the race was mostly a two-car duel between Michigan and Penn College.

“We were putting a lot of pressure on each other. It was a matter of who could hold up to that pressure the longest,” Harrison said.

The pressure intensified for the Penn College team when a problem with the car’s side panel forced an unplanned pit stop about three hours into the race. The panel’s corner became detached from the car’s frame. Instead of panicking, the Penn College crew, led by Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, New Jersey, improvised. They employed zip ties and gaffer tape to secure the corner in under five minutes.

Bandle, who split behind-the-wheel duties with Harrison, drives the Penn College car to victory in the four-hour endurance race at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech. Penn College completed 47 laps, one more than runner-up Michigan. In all, 72 cars competed in the race.New driver Tyler J. Bandle, of Slatington, was a lap down to Michigan when he returned to the course. But it took him only 30 minutes to lap Michigan twice and put Penn College in the lead to stay.

Penn College completed 47 laps, one more than Michigan. Université Laval (based in Quebec City), Virginia Tech and École de technologie supérieure rounded out the top five.

“We all played our roles. That was the key to our success this year,” Harrison said. “The team is a collection of individuals who share the same cause. Everybody recognized their individual talents and applied those talents appropriately.”

Morgan R. Bagenstose, of Reading, designed the car in SolidWorks, a prominent computer-aided design and engineering program. She used the software’s finite element analysis tool to determine the amount of force the car could withstand.

“I knew our design was strong because of all the testing, so I wasn’t concerned about the car holding up under normal conditions,” said Bagenstose, Baja team president. “But it was still kind of nerve-racking watching the race. If another car hit us, it could have ruined everything. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Our hard work paid off.”

In addition to designing the car, team members spent countless hours manufacturing nearly all of its components, assembling the 311-pound vehicle and testing its performance at a quarter-mile track, cleared by heavy construction equipment technology students at the college’s operations training site near Allenwood.

“The students devote considerable time throughout the year to prepare for Baja competitions,” Upcraft said. “They are in the lab late at night and on weekends to make the car the best it can be. If you want to do well, it’s an all-consuming process. They obviously met that challenge.”                                

A job well done! Penn College’s Tyler J. Bandle (left) and Dakota C. Harrison celebrate after driving the school’s car to victory in the endurance race at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech.Five seniors showed their dedication to the Baja team by skipping commencement to compete in Tennessee. Harrison, manufacturing engineering technology; Singh, automotive technology management; Bagenstose, engineering design technology; Caleb J. Harvey, of Pittsgrove, New Jersey, automated manufacturing technology; and Dominic J. Lepri, of Monroe Township, New Jersey, manufacturing engineering technology, all chose Baja over graduation.

“It wasn’t an easy choice to miss commencement,” Harrison admitted. “But the way we see it, we’ve worked so hard for these competitions during the past four years. They mean everything to us.”

Other Penn College team members at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech were Bandle, a December 2021 graduate with associate degrees in automated manufacturing technology and machine tool technology; engineering design technology students Casey B. Campbell, of Kennerdell, and Marshall W. Fowler, of Sellersville; Arjun L. Kempe, of Perkasie, and Isaac H. Thollot, of Milford, both majoring in manufacturing engineering technology; and Alex E. Flores, of Bowie, Maryland, a welding & fabrication engineering technology student.

“It’s important to note that none of this would have happened without the backing of the college, the School of Engineering Technologies and our sponsors,” Upcraft said. “We are very grateful for such support.”

The team’s lead sponsors are the Gene Haas Foundation, Lycoming Engines and PMF Industries Inc.

“The Baja club and their adviser, John Upcraft, have made the college community extremely proud with their victory in Tennessee,” said Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “Their performance speaks very highly of them and the hands-on education they have received in multiple disciplines at Penn College. The Baja team has established quite a legacy!”

This year’s team has one more opportunity to add to that legacy. Penn College will compete in New York at Baja SAE Rochester in early June.

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.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. For more, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.