Tennessee Tech looking for victory in weekend's Mini-Baja Midwest Competition

Students at Tennessee Technological University are accustomed to finding themselves in the winner's circle at annual intercollegiate engineering competitions sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In fact, the students have claimed top finishes in seven Mini-Baja competitions since 1985. But when the gearbox of their all-terrain vehicle fell apart early on in a four-hour endurance race last year, the students instead found themselves 13th in a field of 78 cars.

This weekend Tennessee Tech's team hopes to show what a difference a new gearbox and a year of determined engineering can have when the 1997 Mini-Baja Midwest Competition gets underway at Honda's Research and Development Center in Marysville, Ohio.

Seventy or more teams representing top engineering programs across the U.S. and Canada are expected for the competition, which challenges students to design, build and race all-terrain vehicles powered by standard eight horsepower Briggs & Stratton engines -- the type commonly found in riding lawnmowers. Simulating real-life engineering problems, the contest requires students to develop their cars in such a way that the vehicles could be mass produced in a run of 4,000 at a per-unit cost of less than $2,500.

Tennessee Tech team captain Brandon Palmer, a mechanical engineering senior from Lebanon, says his university's car will feature not only a refined gearbox but a tighter frame that is four inches shorter in length and height than last year's entry.

"We've got a really good car with a good design and a good team," Palmer said. "Our main challenge will be the other teams, and we're looking to be a strong contender."

More information as well as images of Tennessee Tech's Mini-Baja cars can be found at the team's web site.