It's been said, before studying engineering, if someone asked a student what 1+1 is they would have said 2. Once an engineer they say, I'm pretty sure it's 2, but we'd better make it 3 just to be safe.
Professor David Cassel, Ph.D., P.E. applied the same cautious and somewhat skeptical approach to Oklahoma Christian University's involvement in the Baja SAE competition. This is Professor Cassel's story.
"In Spring 2000, when OC Mechanical Engineering competed in the SAE Mini Baja Midwest in Manhattan, Kansas I was the department chair. Dr. Jim Cutbirth had somehow convinced Dr. Wayne Whaley that our entire senior class (I believe there were 15 of them) should build a Baja car as their Systems Design capstone project. I argued that it was too big of an undertaking.
However, with the help of Jay Jones, we raised the funds for the team to build the car and attend the competition. We even had to charter a flight from Wiley Post airport to ferry the students to K-State since the competition was over the weekend of graduation. There was an extra seat on the charter flight, and they talked me into going along for the last day; for the endurance race.
Junior Matt Bohm had driven car #23 to place in the maneuverability event the day before, and hopes were high. Watching the endurance race was a blast, and had the car not broken a CV axle on the final lap, the team would have placed higher than 23rd of 88 teams. As much fun and excitement as that experience might have been, EVERY year since then, when the department wanted to make Baja one of the senior projects, I was not on board.
I tried to stay neutral, but I told anyone that asked that it was too much of an undertaking as a senior project, especially since all other schools participated as a club project, with 50+ volunteers and waiting lists of students wanting to be involved. And just about every year it was attempted, the OC Mechanical Engineering seniors pulled off a minor miracle just to make it to competition (I think maybe just to prove me wrong?).
Ethan's Era _ Year 1
Then along came 2016-17 freshman Ethan Loyd. Ethan was invited to join the senior Baja Team because he was a competent welder. He hung around the Baja project all year, and even tagged along to the competition in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Ethan's Era _ Year 2
The following year was my daughter Veronica's senior year, and much to my chagrin she made the Baja project her first choice of several options. I still thought the undertaking unwise, so I bit my tongue. Banished by Veronica, I sneaked in to watch her team status reports and presentations, and was thrilled when they asked me to pull the trailer to the competition in Pittsburg, Kansas in May 2018.
Ethan Loyd and his parents were right there, cheering the team on. They did an amazing job competing against large teams from big universities as well as heavy rains and evacuation for a tornado. Technical difficulties hampered every event. Team OC made it through the endurance race; the course reduced in length, and the duration shortened to two hours. Veronica's team came home with a thick layer of Kansas mud caked on the car and drivers.
Ethan's Era _ Year 3 and 4
Ethan Loyd contributed to the Baja project again his junior year. He was ready to step into the Team Lead role his 2019-2020 senior year. His team decided to build a custom gearbox.
Guess who warned them all semester not to count on the new CNC machine? The new Mechanical Engineering lab manager, Jake Jones had no training. I tried to be polite, but I made it clear that they were carrying a lot of risk. Jake proved me wrong! The CNC machine was delivered over Christmas break. He assembled the entire thing when it arrived from the manufacturer in pieces, then taught himself to operate it.
Soon, it became apparent that, for Ethan Loyd and his team, the 2020 car was the real deal.
Not only did it look like the year OC would finally break into the SAE Baja big leagues, OC's SAE Aero design team was poised to make major waves in their own advanced class competition. I had the privilege to tow the trailer with their aircraft to the RC field at Lake Stanley Draper for the maiden trial flight, and what a voyage it was. I felt like I was watching the Wright brothers first flight!
That was Thursday, March 12, 2020; the day after the Thunder home game against the Utah Jazz was canceled; the tipping point of the pandemic. Two days before the Spring Break from which the students never got to return. All events, including the SAE Baja and Aero competitions, were canceled. Both teams were crushed. Hundreds of hours of work would never see the light of competition.
Ethan's Era _ Year 5
The 2021 team of students was expected to design and build another vehicle, this time with 4WD, not knowing if, when or where the competition would be held. Siphoning Ethan Lloyd's experience as he moved into the role of graduate assistant, they hit the ground running, overcoming vendor delays and cancellations to design and build the best car OC has seen. Car #36 was built to impress people and endure the grueling Baja competition.
Team Baja Blast, SAE Baja Arizona validation event in Tucson, Arizona:
- 35 teams registered for the event, down from the pre-pandemic 100 team limit; however, most of the top teams from prior years showed up.
- OC Car #36 placed 2nd in the sled pull event, beating Rochester Institute of Technology by only 0.1 second!
- OC Car #36 placed 2nd in the maneuverability event.
- OC Car #36 placed 8th in the suspension event.
- OC Car #36 placed 18th in the acceleration event.
- OC Car #36 placed 3rd overall in the dynamic events.
- Only 24 teams made it through inspections and preliminary events to compete in the 4-hour endurance race.
- OC Car #36 placed 14th in the endurance event, making 70 grueling laps around the course.
- OC Car #36 placed 7th overall; higher than any prior OC team!
Oklahoma Christian engineering professors have named the past five years of Baja competition as ”ETHAN’S ERA!” As for me, after 21 years of discouraging involvement in SAE Baja for senior projects, I confess that I am now a recovering Baja naysayer!
Congratulations to mentors Dr. Kevin Plumlee and Dr. Ben Reish, all of the generous sponsors and supporters, and this incredible group of students:
- Jake Higginbottom (team lead)
- David Greenfield
- Derek Duckworth
- Corina Marin
- Daniel Thng
- Aaron Sears
- Brian Dalke
- Praison Mathew
- Ethan Loyd (graduate consultant)
And for 2022 Baja team lead Maggie Mitchell and crew, you've got a hard act to follow, so get it done!"
Respectfully and in humility, Professor David Cassel, Ph.D., P.E.