Build. Break. Repeat. It’s the motto and also the natural order of work for Ferris’ Baja Racing Club.
Part of the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Ferris Baja Racing Club is a registered student organization where its members build and race Baja racecars.
The club spends about eight hours every week working on their cars, and in the time between the three races they participate in, they’re making repairs and salvaging parts from other vehicles to replace broken parts.
“You go to the race, and obviously you don’t plan to have an accident, but they’re open wheel, so if you bump wheels with another car, your risk of rolling it is incredibly high,” Ferris business administration senior and Baja Racing Club member Philip Nasskau said.
Accidents are common in Baja racing, and mechanical issues are expected. In the club’s last race, Blizzard Baja at Michigan Technological University, Ferris cars placed 11th and 13th; having previously taken first in the 2018 event. Even without the 2019 win, just finishing the race can be seen as an accomplishment. The group said out of 100 vehicles in another recent race, only about 30 to 40 completed the run, and finishing Blizzard Baja didn’t come without issues for Ferris.
“When I rolled it, I did the perfect roll because I nosedived. I came over the jump too fast and the nose dug in first because the snow had been wearing out. So basically, the jump got higher, and the nose dug in and boom, it just went on its roof,” Nasskau said. “When it all stopped, I was upside down just waiting for someone to come roll me right side up so I could carry on driving. As soon as I got back up, I floored it, but what I didn’t know is that I didn’t have any brakes. I had lost my master cylinder, so I didn’t have any brakes — not that I used them.”
A low percentage of vehicles finishing the race is pretty typical in Baja racing, which places a lot of stress on the vehicles traveling up to above 30 mph over several hours. In 2018, when Ferris won the Blizzard Baja, their finishing time was just more than 15 and a half hours, during which they had several drivers taking turns behind the wheel.
“You see a whole bunch of cars at the beginning, and even in a smaller race, you see the percentage of cars drop off. There are cars that look really pretty at the beginning, and they just keep coming back to the pits because the same thing breaks over and over again,” Ferris automotive engineering technology junior and Baja Racing Club member Scott Spencer said. “The tracks are meant to test the cars. They have a lot of ramps and sharp corners that will mess things up.”
Currently, the Baja Racing Club is preparing for the national race in Kentucky, in which teams from all over the country, and even several foreign teams, come to compete.
For that race, in which only one car per team can compete, the team is building an entirely new vehicle in about seven weeks. They say everything in this industry is always rushed, but that it’s a fun experience that helps many of members, most of which are automotive students, with preparing for their professional careers.
“In the automotive field, it’s a lot of working together and collaborating to complete a job or task, and that’s all we do here. We collaborate and work together to build a car. It’s a lot of teamwork and delegating responsibilities, stuff that you can’t learn from a book in a classroom,” Ferris automotive engineering technology senior and Baja Racing Club member Eric Troyer.
Heading into the national race, the club is preparing and hoping for success.
“I am cautiously optimistic about our chances at nationals. I think we’ll do a good job. We’ll go there, and we will give it our all. It’s about minimizing silly mistakes and being on the ball, and taking into consideration anything that might stop us from finishing the race,” Nasskau said.
The Baja Racing Club meets 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday in the Automotive Center.