TTU's Mini Baja Team Declared Champions of the East Again Victory Celebration Delayed by Scoring Miscalculations

Tennessee Tech University's Mini Baja drivers tackled tough terrain, conquered water challenges and nailed design elements to once again capture the Mini Baja East Championship and its 11th first place finish in the team's history. More than 60 teams, including Georgia Tech, Auburn University, and the University of Michigan, all finished behind TTU's winning team, which finished in the Top 5 for the 25th time since the team began competing in 1978.

However, this year's victory celebration was the first one to be held several days after the event after another university had been declared the winner. TTU left the event, hosted by Auburn University, believing they had placed fourth, a satisfying if not exhilarating experience. But after official scorers discovered scoring miscalculations in the multi-event competition, team members said it was truly a case of better late than never after being declared the overall winner.

"This was a young team, and this was a rebuilding year," said David Ballard, team captain. "I was a little disappointed with a fourth place finish, but we were happy because a top five finish is great against that caliber of competition.

"When I first heard that the scores were being recalculated, I was hoping that we wouldn't drop out of the top five. With the complex scoring system, there was no way of knowing how it would come out. We just knew we had performed well," Ballard said.

In fact, TTU's team placed first in the engineering design category and tied for first with Clarkson University for the water maneuverability award. They also placed third in both the acceleration and total dynamic events categories. After a major scoring error was corrected, TTU was eight-hundredths of a point behind the first place team, so officials decided to review the scores in more than a half-dozen categories and declared TTU the winner.

The final official standings showed Tennessee Tech University first, followed by Clarkson University, Universite De Sherbrooke, Queen’s University, and Auburn University.

Now the team is preparing to compete in the Midwest competition. Three races are held each year in the East, Midwest and West, but the East is considered the most grueling of the competitions because it involves rugged terrain and water.

"We are keeping our eye on the Dayton Cup because that is our ultimate goal," said Ballard. TTU won the Dayton Cup, the national Mini Baja award for the year's best team, in 2002 and 2003.

Mini Baja is a collegiate off-road racing series sponsored by Society of Automotive Engineers. College teams from all over the world fabricate vehicles in the hope that their designs will prove to be tough enough to endure the harsh conditions of the race environment yet fast enough to beat competitors.

Tennessee Tech has competed in Mini Baja since the late 1970s. Students work on the vehicles on campus in the DENSO Vehicle Engineering Center, thanks to a donation from DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee and the DENSO North America Foundation.

This year General Mills/Pillsbury of Murfreesboro signed on as the premier sponsor of TTU's program and donated $10,000.

Local sponsors included Bill Boruff Automotive, which donated the use of a truck to tow the team trailer; Quality Metal Treatment, which heat-treated suspension parts for the team; Rhino Linings of Cookeville, which treated the floatation equipment; and Vital Signs, who assisted and contributed to the graphics displayed on the vehicle.
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