Maximum Success from Mini-Baja Team Tennessee Tech Wins East Competition

Through sandy and clay soils, rolling hills, small lakes and ponds with pine trees and scrub oaks, Tennessee Tech University's Mini-Baja team emerged the winner over 32 other schools in this year's Mini-Baja East competition in Columbia, S.C.

The Tennessee Tech team defeated schools including Georgia Tech, Auburn University, University of Florida and Syracuse, as well as the defending champion Canadian team. In addition to capturing the overall trophy, the Tennessee Tech team won four 1st place, one 2nd place and one 10th place award -- making this Mini-Baja team the university's most successful entry in the East competition.

"This was truly a team effort," said team captain Brad Jenkins. "Everyone was a specialist of sorts, and we trusted each other with different parts of the competition based on the skills we had."

The Society of Automotive Engineers and Briggs and Stratton sponsor the competition in which students build rugged, all-terrain vehicles around a standard Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine, then race through treacherous terrain.

This was the 25th SAE Mini Baja competition, a contest now held in three different locations in North America as well as Brazil, Korea, and South Africa. The object of the competition is to simulate real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges.

The result is something more. Students learn to function as a team and must generate financial support for their project and manage their education priorities. And each year, their proverbial effort to "build a better mousetrap" becomes their effort to build a better performing mini-baja vehicle.

"Our vehicle was drastically different than previous university efforts because we completely changed the flotation system," said Jenkins. "We changed to a pontoon system encased under the car that allowed for more stability and ground clearance and created less drag."

The change paid off. Tennessee Tech used its superior water performance to hold off the competition, consistently crossing the pond section of the course faster than other teams.

Although performance is key, teams are also evaluated for oral and written presentations of their concepts by engineering and vehicle development experts from the automotive and off-highway vehicle industry who serve as volunteer judges.

This year's Tennessee Tech Mini-Baja team members are Brad Jenkins, Mike Deschamps, Scott Pierce, Flourin Marcy, Patrick Courier, Craig Peterson, Justin Stacey, David Gregory and Crystal Childers.