Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 26, 2012

Race to Washington

NMC club to pit their car against 100 others in May

Special to the Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — Six months can seem like forever, but to those who design, build, test and perfect a Baja Car, time flies.

Students in Northwestern Michigan College's Engineering Club are racing against the clock to attend the Baja Society of Automotive Engineers competition in May. The Bellingham, Wash., event simulates real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges and will draw 100 college teams from around the country and world to showcase their creations.

"It will be quite an experience being able to compete alongside teams from nations like The United Arab Emirates, Mexico, India, France and so on," said Jacob Diss, the Engineering Club's assistant business manager. "I'm looking forward to spending time with not just with my buddies on the team, but with other team members from all over the world."

To level the playing field at the outset, all Baja teams start with a 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine. From there, each team's engineering and design acumen take over. Every two years, clubs have to start over with a completely new car.

"As much time is spent on the design as we spent in building," said Doug Grunder, president and business manager of the Engineering Club. "We built last year's car from scratch. This year, we're redoing the suspension and modifying the frame slightly."

Over four days, Baja SAE Washington participants will put the cars through events including a hill climb, tests of acceleration, maneuverability and suspension and a four-hour endurance drive. In addition, judges will complete a technical inspection of each car and students will give a sales and design presentation.

NMC students will pit their skills against others at four-year colleges and universities, which tend to have bigger teams and budgets. The NMC team has a $10,000 budget and is asking the community for assistance with donations or services.

"The most unique thing about this is we're a two-year college competing against and beating four-year colleges who have budgets 100 times greater than ours," said Evonne Allard, Engineering Club secretary and a student in NMC's engineering program.

The NMC Engineering Club is a student group that recruits members each year like others on campus, but with maybe a little more bling: driving the Baja car around campus to spark interest. Faculty advisors are Jim Coughlin and Mark Howell.

This school year, the 37-member club is dedicating its Baja effort to fighting cancer in honor of former member Chris Coughlin's successful battle against a rare form of testicular cancer. The son of one of the faculty advisors, Coughlin subsequently founded 13Motorsports and is immersed in off-road racing.

"He's been a big supporter of the team," Grunder said.

In prior years, club members traveled to Society of Automotive Engineers-sanctioned events in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and Alabama. This year's planned adventure will include 15 students. To stretch their dollars, participants are mapping out an extremely low-budget excursion that includes sharing shipping space to Washington for their Baja car with another Michigan team.

Students built last year's car from scratch and competed in Alabama, where they placed well against bigger schools. They came in 35th overall against 102 teams, and beat both Michigan State University teams and one of two University of Michigan teams.

"What we manage to do with the amount of money we have available is pretty resourceful," Allard said.

For more information or to support the NMC Baja Car endeavor, contact Doug Grunder at 392-6726 or email You can follow progress on the club's Facebook page, or on Twitter @nmcbaja.