Penn College Baja SAE team poised for success

Published 05.01.2024

Baja SAE
Baja SAE Competition
Campus Events
Automated Manufacturing & Machining
Welding & Metal Fabrication
Engineering & Industrial Design Technology
Marshall W. Fowler, of Sellersville, majoring in engineering design technology, welds part of the frame for Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Baja SAE car. Designed and manufactured by students, the single-seat, all-terrain vehicle is built to compete in five events at Baja SAE Williamsport: acceleration, hill climb, maneuverability, suspension and traction, and endurance.

Throughout its 19-year history, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s team has crisscrossed the country to compete at Baja SAE. This year, they only must travel a dozen miles from campus to test their skills, a reality that should aid last-minute preparations for the international event.

Penn College is hosting Baja SAE for the first time, May 16-19, at its Heavy Equipment Operations Site in Brady Township. More than 100 teams, representing colleges and universities from 34 states, Canada and Brazil, will converge for Baja SAE Williamsport. The competition requires teams to design, manufacture and build a single-seat, all-terrain car to survive various challenges.

Four of those tests – acceleration, hill climb, maneuverability, and suspension and traction – are scheduled for May 18. The following day features the marquee event: a four-hour endurance race over a rugged 1.1-mile course. (The first two days consist of technical inspections and presentations.)

Despite hosting, the Penn College Baja team can’t study the competition site or course layout prior to the event, as that would be an unfair edge. However, they plan to use the extra time afforded by minimal travel to their advantage.

“There have been some years that we just literally finished the car as we wheeled it into our trailer to drive over 1,000 miles for the competition,” said John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and the team’s faculty adviser. “That has really limited our time for testing and tuning and fixing any last-minute problems.” 

“We’d be working and see that we have some problems and be like, ‘OK, we’ll solve it on the road because we needed to leave four hours ago.’ Now, we’ll have the time to fix anything and drive 15 minutes down the road. I’ll take 15 minutes over 15 hours any day of the week!” said team captain Marshall W. Fowler, of Sellersville, an engineering design technology student.

Despite the usual time crunch, Penn College has excelled at Baja SAE. The team has registered 14 top-10 finishes in the endurance race since 2011, including two wins in 2022, the last year two-wheel-drive cars were permitted at the competition.

For Baja SAE Williamsport, the Penn College team is updating its four-wheel-drive system, implemented in 2023. That extensive work includes a new frame, front suspension and continuously variable transmission engagement system.

The students design and manufacture about 95% of the car’s parts.

“Last year, we shoved a four-wheel-drive system into a two-wheel-drive frame. Everything was tight,” Fowler explained. “We’ve changed some of the geometry of the frame to allow for better driver clearances and passages of the four-wheel-drive system through the actual car.”

Engineering design technology student Casey B. Campbell, of Kennerdell, developed the new engagement system with key parts made by Brian P. Rogers, of Kunkletown, majoring in automated manufacturing technology.

For competitive reasons, the team can’t reveal much about the engagement system, except to describe it as “smoother and more reliable.” But they can discuss the benefits of the experience.

“When I see my parts that I designed working on the car, it makes all the hassle worth it,” Campbell said.

“The parts I’m making here for Baja are way more complex than what I’m doing in the classroom,” Rogers said. “It’s cool to see my hard work is actually paying off in the end.”

Jack J. Stump (left), of York, and Trevor J. Lindsay, of Mechanicsburg, prime the chassis for Pennsylvania College of Technology’s car in advance of Baja SAE Williamsport. Stump is a machine tool technology student, and Lindsay is majoring in manufacturing engineering technology. Eventually, the chassis was painted blue for the international competition, scheduled for May 16-19 at Penn College’s Heavy Equipment Operations Site in Brady Township.

“Baja takes the theoretical and puts it into a real, hands-on application before we get out into industry,” Fowler added. “When future employers start asking questions, we already have tangible products that we can give them. It really gives us a step up when it comes to employment.”

Fowler designed the new front suspension as part of his senior capstone project. “We took what we had last year and saw what worked and what didn’t work. Then we shrunk a lot of things, changed some materials and reduced around 50% of the weight from last year’s front suspension,” he said.

The students have put the entire car on a diet, reducing its weight from 394 pounds to about 360 pounds.

“Dropping that weight will make our car faster, and we had a fast car to begin with,” Upcraft said. “I’m confident that we will have one of the faster cars at the competition.”

Winning the endurance race requires not only a fast car but also a sturdy one. Traditionally, the endurance course breaks cars. For example, at Baja SAE Ohio in September, only about 20% of the cars completed at least 40 laps. Penn College was one of the few teams to do so, finishing ninth. Thirteen cars didn’t complete 10 laps.

“If we don’t break anything, I expect us to be at least in the top five, hopefully number one,” Campbell said, regarding Baja SAE Williamsport.

“Hopefully, we can put it all together for this home race and bring home another victory,” Fowler said. “That would be really awesome.”

Failure to reach that goal would not be from lack of effort. Team members have spent countless hours throughout the academic year and school breaks researching, designing and manufacturing the best car possible. 

These guys are super, super dedicated. They’re putting in weekends and late nights. All of our lives have been dedicated to this.

Marshall W. Fowler

team captain & engineering design technology student

“I think this month (April), I made it home before midnight four or five times. It takes a lot,” Campbell stressed. “But it’s our choice to be here. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. We come here on Saturday and Sunday because we want to, not because we have to.”

“These guys are super, super dedicated,” Fowler said. “They’re putting in weekends and late nights. All of our lives have been dedicated to this. We couldn’t do this if everyone wasn’t pushing as hard as they are.”

And this year, they’ll have a little extra time to push.

Penn College Baja SAE team sponsors are: Advanced Composites, Alpinestars, Behrent’s Performance Warehouse, Brentwood Industries Inc., Chartwell Hotels LLC, Chesapeake Energy, CK Worldwide, Davie Jane Gilmour, Designatronics Inc., E-Tech Industrial Corp., Encina, Evergreen Wealth Solutions, Fulton Bank, Gene Haas Foundation, Hardinge Inc., Harold Beck & Sons Inc., Holiday Inn-Downtown Williamsport, ISC Racers Tape, Jersey Shore State Bank, John and Linda Confer, Ken and Kristie Healy Foundation, Kristopher and Becky Shaner, Lycoming Engines, Pace-O-Matic Inc., Pneu-Dart Inc., Ralph Alberts Co. Inc., Sandvik, Shannon Massey, The Kiessling Group of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, The Charles W. Oldt Family, Quality Machine Inc., TMS Titanium, Tyler J. Bandle, Vampire Tear-Offs, Wilwood Engineering Inc., YG1, and 3Dconnexion.

For more information on Baja SAE Williamsport, visit the event site.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222 for more information.