Mini-baja East regional competition scheduled for Tennessee Tech campus May 14-16

Hundreds of engineering students racing all-terrain vehicles will splash in the mud and muck around Center Hill Lake as Tennessee Technological University hosts the 1998 Eastern Mini-Baja competition May 14-16.

More than 50 teams from the United States and Canada, including an all-women's team from Auburn University, have spent the better part of the academic year designing and testing the vehicles that have one component in common - a stock riding lawn mower engine provided by Briggs and Stratton.

"This is an endurance race with a lot of challenges," said Robert Smoak, event director and Tennessee Tech mechanical engineering professor. "In previous years, cars have sunk in the lake, gotten stuck in the mud, hit trees, lost their tires and more. It's a challenge just to finish, but with inspection we try to ensure cars are able to handle the water."

Mechanical engineering students employ such tactics as shaving tires and devising special flotation devices and struts to gain a winning edge. But, the vehicles must pass safety inspections as well as tests for speed, endurance, strength, design, and maneuverability.

Thursday's registration and safety inspections will be held at the Hyder-Burks Pavilion near Tennessee Tech's campus. Friday's events include stability, balance and survival events in the water at Cookeville's City Lake and field events such as a sled pull and top speed contest behind Tennessee Tech's baseball field.

The four-hour endurance race beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday is the spectator event. Organizers encourage anyone wanting to watch the race to park at the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Crafts. Transportation will be provided from the Craft Center to the race site at the Lakeside Resort .

The endurance course is approximately one and a half miles long, with a quarter of a mile in water. The water is about 60 feet deep in the part of the course that winds 10-20 feet off shore.

Tennessee Tech is one of the strongest teams on the Mini-Baja circuit, having placed first in eastern or midwestern competitions seven times since 1985. As host with a "home course" advantage, the team will not race in this competition, but will compete in the Midwest event in June.

Among the universities sending teams to the Eastern competition are Florida, Michigan State, Syracuse,Toronto and the United States Military Academy.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Take a peek at the challenges students are facing by reading the questions sent in to race organizers on the Mini-Baja web site. The site also gives details about race preparation, teams, and competition sites. To find the web page, go to www.tntech.edu and click on the picture of the mini-baja racer at the top of the page.