Last week, Karl touched on how important racing can be to the continual improvement of automotive design and technology. Brutally fierce competition forces teams to entirely rethink every system on their vehicles in order to be lighter, more agile and more efficient than their adversaries. Materials thought to be too weak, components that appear too small and geometries adapted from completely different industries are all parts of challenging the “that’s how we’ve always done it” mentality and enable new generations to create vehicles previously unimagined due to the thought processes of yesterday’s designers and machinists.
I gained an appreciation for venturesome design at a young age drag racing motorbikes I fabricated with old parts I acquired at swap meets, and raw materials left over from my grandfather’s machine shop. I didn’t have the money to buy hot rod performance parts, so I was forced to make my own. Working with limited resources and machinery from the Mesozoic Era, I learned how to repurpose old scraps and work around the inadequacies of dilapidated tools.
With a bug for racing in the dirt and some guidance from my high school shop teacher, I ended up at RIT where I spent much of my time designing, leading and fabricating as a part of their Baja SAE racing team. The Baja SAE program consists of more than 100 collegiate teams across the world. The Baja program is as much a real job as it is a club activity, forcing students to teach themselves engineering, business modeling and effective communication. Teams design, manufacture and test a fully custom off-road racing vehicle with a suspension and driveline comparable to a scaled-down desert truck. Some teams go so far as to use custom data acquisition and one-off transmissions to squeeze every last bit of power out of their 8hp engine (one of the few constraints).
By the end of my time on the racing team, I was able to design and machine much of our event-winning, custom primary Continuously Variable Transmission. The CVT weighed less than half of the industry standard unit, with a 72% lower rotational inertia.
Dirt racing and the Baja SAE series have been instrumental in shaping how I approach design and manufacturing problems. Although developing the drivetrain for our truck has been a difficult challenge, my roots in racing and the many lessons I learned on RIT’s Baja team have prepared me well to overcome them. I’m proud of our engineering accomplishments on the truck to date and I know people will be suitably impressed with the solutions we have developed in making this a best-in-class true sport utility truck.