Student riding on track

An empty space adjacent to the Jacobetti Complex is now home to a brand new test track for the NMU Baja SAE club.  Consisting of several suspension sections, a 3-foot vertical drop jump, and a 3-foot vertical table-top jump, the track will help the club design and develop supsension and drivetrain components of the car. 

Thanks go out to the combined efforts of Jim Thams from the NMU Engineering and Planning Department; Terry Eilders, Harvey Scherer, and Jim Robare from the NMU Plant Operations Department; and Mike Rudisill and Bob Marlor from the Engineering Technology Department, for their work in getting this track built. 

The NMU Baja SAE Club has received various generous donations. Argonics Incorporated, a local producer of polyurethane products, and Cliffs Natural Resources, an international mining and natural resource company, have provided generous cash donations that will help the team toward their goal of raising $12,000  this school year.  The club also receives support from Polaris Industries, Team Tech Motorsports and Briggs and Stratton through donated or heavily discounted vehicle components and safety equipment.

SAE Baja 2014 National Peoria Illinois

SAE Baja 2014 National Peoria IllinoisThe Northern Michigan University SAE Baja team set a new standard by finishing 14th out of 119 entries in the four hour endurance race on 7 Jun 2014 at Peoria Illinois.  In doing so they beat every collegiate team from Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois or Minnesota with the exception of the University of Michigan.  This is a new all time for the team in the featured event at the national competition.

This finish didn't come without its challenges as the team struggled to get the car qualified in the first two days.  Finally with just two minutes to spare they passed the final qualification Friday at 4:58pm.  While the initial problems with the car did keep the team from competing in other events they pulled through to get into the featured endurance race the following Saturday.

In the four hour race on Saturday they weren't the fastest car on the track but proved one of the most durable as they were flagged off the course once to repair a number that had been damaged in a collision.  At the end of the race a broken bolt in the rear suspension caused them to miss the last 15 minutes - however even with these two setbacks they were able to finish in 14th place.  

SAE Baja 2014 National Peoria IllinoisTeam Members  in the above photo from left to right: Andy Schafer , Sawyer Russell, John Walsh, Eryk Silva and (Thomas) Kah Chun Yap.

NMU SAE Baja Team Sweeps the MTU Winter Baja Race

Team at Awards Banquet

The NMU SAE Baja team raced to a first place finish at the 2013 Winter Baja race hosted by Michigan Tech in Houghton, MI on Saturday February 16.  The NMU team captured the checkered flag in both events, including the rigorous 4-hour endurance race and the 2-minute fastest lap race.   NMU drivers Andy Shafer, Matt Bair, Dan Klim, and Chris Taylor piloted the NMU #23 car to victory in a field of 48 cars during the 4-hour endurance race.  In the first few laps of the race, NMU driver (team vice president) Andy Shafer encountered a minor problem with the throttle cable that created a major problem on the race course; it’s hard win a race at half-throttle.  After a quick stop in theIn the pack pits to repair the throttle cable, Andy found himself in 40th place and throughout the next 2 hours, Andy and then Matt Bair managed to overtake more than 30 cars to move into 4th place. The NMU team was passing cars at every conceivable spot on the track, while managing to keep the car on the course and avoid time consuming crashes and rollovers.  NMU Baja team advisor Bob Marlor (Professor, Engineering Technology) noted, “It was great fun to watch the NMU car beating cars to the inside line.  NMU students know how to drive in snow!”  In the second half of the race, the NMU team continued to race the car in winning fashion.  Drivers Dan Klim (team president) and Chris Taylor negotiated rapidly deteriorating snow conditions on the course to outpace the field and bring the NMU #23 car home to victory. 

Andy in the turn

In addition to a great performance on the track, NMU students working in the pits performed winning pits stops to keep stay ahead of the field.  Team members John Grassmyer, Steve Giles, Kyle St. John, Aaron Toth, and Matthew Barbercheck combined driver changes with refueling stops and were able to get the car back on the course quickly.

NMU fielded a second car ( #68) which was driven by Andy Miller, Kale Reid, Brad Ripp, and Ed Sanderson.  The NMU team recently performed extensive design changes on the #68 car.  Led by Andy Miller, the NMU team removed the entire back half of the car and built a newly engineered drivetrain and rear suspension.  The Winter Baja race was the first test for this car, and the car performed well, finishing in mid pack, and with some tuning will be battling the #23 car for the top place.  Keep an eye out at the NMU Baja test track (next to the Jacobetti Complex) to see which car is the fastest this spring. 

Andy Passing

A fastest lap event concluded the day of racing. Each university was allowed to drive one car one lap to go as fast as they could. NMU chose to use their #23 car and put Andy back into the driver’s seat. NMU’s car was the first car to go, and turned in the fastest lap time to win this event

After the race NMU’s team vice president Andy Shafer observed, “We had our car set up great for the track. Not to mention that all of our drivers kept the car out of the snow banks too. I’m proud of our entire team and have to thank Teamtech Motorsports, Lincoln Electric, Argonics Inc., Northern Michigan University and the entire Engineering Technology department at NMU. Without all of their help we would not be able to do this.”

Another downhill turn

Team president Dan Klim adds, “This year’s first place finish at MTU’s Winter Baja race is one for the record books! Without a dedicated and ambitious group of incredible students our goal of having two race vehicles would have never been reached…. I am very proud of each and every one of the team members who have sacrificed their time to design and build an outstanding off-road vehicle….It’s a great day to be a wildcat!”

The SAE Baja race series is a student engineer competition organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers ( 


Passing U of M

Engineering students from across the U.S. and the world design and build cars and compete in races throughout the year, with the largest races being held in the summer.  At the summer events, in addition to racing, teams are judged on the design and marketability of their vehicle.  A comprehensive engineering report is required along with a cost report which details the complete manufacturing cost of the car.  



The NMU SAE Baja team membership is open to all NMU students.  For more information see NMU SAE Baja on Facebook.In the turn

NMU Baja Club Places Second at UW-Stout Backwoods Baja

1st Place: UW-Milwaukee

2nd Place: Northern Michigan University (tied with MTU)

3rd Place: Michigan Technological University

Saturday October 21, 2012.  This afternoon, the NMU SAE Baja team took 2nd place in a field of 19 cars at the UW-Stout Backwoods Baja endurance race.  The UW-Stout race is a 4-hour off-road race on a motocross track.  This endurance event demands a fast and reliable car, smart driving, and good team work.  “I’m proud of our team leaders Dan Klim, Andy Shafer, and Jimmy Hilbrecht.  They used their experience from past races to organize and prepare for this race”, notes SAE Club Advisor and NMU Engineering Technology Professor Robert Marlor,  “They led the team, and allowed our newer guys to gain valuable experience in driving the car.”  Ed Sanderson, Aaron Toth, Andy Miller, and Dan Hurt each drove the car for about 45 laps each.  Making fast pit stops for fuel and driver changes was just one component that led to this successful race.   The NMU drivers used good strategy to avoid crashes and rollovers.  Prof. Marlor adds, “They had some very close calls, but managed to avoid the big pileups” .  Vice president Andy Shafer adds, “When the drivers came around I always give them a thumbs up so they knew they were doing well. When it got close to the end I signaled  the drivers to take it easy as it is tempting to race hard to the finish but, that is when serious damage can occur”.

The NMU Baja team also took 2nd place in the “fastest car” four-lap sprint race with Jimmy Hilbrecht at the wheel.  This event featured an exciting Le Mans style start in which the drivers were required to sprint 50 yards to the car, get belted in to the safety harness, start the engine, and go. 

Baja SAE is an international collegiate competition in which students from over 100 universities compete each year.  Racing the cars is just a small part of this competition.  Students spend hundreds of hours at the computer designing the cars, and in the shop building the cars.  Student teams are scored not only on their race results, but also on their design and cost reports.  “The work on this car really starts when the team brainstorms new design ideas after a summer International race”, adds Prof.  Marlor.  The team designed and built the current No. 23 car in the fall of 2011 and winter of 2012, and raced it for the first time at the International race in Burlington, WI in June of 2012.  This fall the team tested the car extensively at the NMU Baja Test Track adjacent to the Jacobetti Complex and improved the drive train reliability and tuned the suspension.

Baja team president Dan Klim notes, “This year’s team has almost doubled since last year making progression of the club outstanding. The new team members have meshed really well into their new roles and responsibilities which helped in the preparation for the first race of the season hosted by UW Stout. The revamped test track built over the summer created a solid platform for us to test our car prior to the upcoming events this season. Without continuous testing there is no continuous improvement, so we are very thankful to have the car tested and running on our own turf."  

The team is now preparing an additional car for the MTU Winter Baja race, scheduled for February 16th in Houghton, MI.   Prof. Marlor concludes, “MTU puts on a great race in the snow, and they anticipate having more than 50 cars competing this year.  We are looking forward to bringing 2 cars to the MTU race.  This is a fun event for the teams and the spectators”.  Dan Klim adds, “We are looking forward to implementing a new front end geometry design in our current No. 23 car along with a new drivetrain design in the 2010-11 car in preparation for the MTU Winter Baja race.” 

NMU Baja Club
NMU Baja Team photo with trophy:  Kneeling (L-R): Andy Miller, Andy Shafer (VP), John Grassmyer, and Matt Karody. Standing (L-R): Matt Bair, Dan Klim (Pres.) , Joe Stackvel, Kale Reid, Jimmy Hilbrecht (Chief Eng.), Ed Sanderson, Dan Hurt, Aaron Toth, Steve Giles, Chris Taylor, and Adam Steinhauer.

NMU Baja Club

The starting line, 2nd heat, UW-Backwoods Baja race 2012.

NMU Baja Club

NMU Baja driver Andy Miller leads an MTU car through a tricky off-camber downhill turn.  Several cars rolled over at this turn, but the  NMU drivers raced a full 170 laps without a single mishap.

NMU Baja Club

Air Time

NMU Baja Club

A close battle

NMU Baja Club


Continuing their way up the Pack

Baja Team

June 7-10 2012, Burlington Wisconsin.  The NMU SAE Baja Wildcat Racing team competed in the 2012 SAE Baja competition in Burlington, Wisconsin.   This collegiate competition requires student teams to design, manufacture, and race off road race cars.  Originating in 1976, the SAE Baja Competition Series has become one of the premier engineering design competitions for University teams from around the nation and around the world.  The NMU Baja team has competed in the Baja SAE Series since 2005 and in the past two years the NMU team has been steadily working their way up in the standings.  In 2011 the NMU team finished 10th out of 35 cars at the Michigan Tech Winter Baja race and 69th out of 115 cars at the Illinois Baja SAE event.   At the 2012 Winter Baja, the NMU team placed 8th in a field of 50 cars, and 49th out of 114 at the Wisconsin Baja SAE event; their best finish to date at both events.

The MTU Winter Baja race consists of two 2-hour endurance race help on a 1-mile long snow covered course.  The course includes several moguls, twisty turns, table top jumps, as well as s few straight sections for speed. 

The events at Wisconsin this year included acceleration, maneuverability, sled pull, mud bog, and suspension and traction as well as a 4-hour endurance race on a 2-mile course.  The endurance course includes several obstacles designed to break vehicles, including telephone poles, drop-offs, jumps, ruts, and boulders.  The national competition also includes scores for design and cost effectiveness.


Jimmy Hilbrecht, Chief Engineer – Every year I look forward to the Baja competitions and this year was no different.  We had a very solid design and strong team dynamics and I think our results reflect that.  It is very rewarding to have a car do this well after a year of designing and building.  The plan for this upcoming year is the same as it was last year: Improve the car, improve the group, and have fun.

Andrew Shafer, Vice President - After working all year to design and build our Baja vehicle, the SAE Wisconsin race was a great way to end the year. The team as a whole worked together effectively all weekend to pass tech inspection and to quickly fix our vehicle during the four hour endurance race. The highlight of the weekend was successfully reaching the checker flag signifying the end of the demanding race, a feeling that I hope future members can build on and continue to achieve.

 More information regarding the Baja SAE student competition can be found at

NMU #23 VehicleBackground:

As described in the 2012 Collegiate Design Series Baja SAE® Rules from SAE International, “Baja SAE is an intercollegiate engineering design competition for undergraduate and graduate engineering students. The object of the competition is to simulate real-world engineering design projects and their related challenges. Each team is competing to have its design accepted for manufacture by a fictitious firm. The students must function as a team to design, build, test, promote and compete with a vehicle within the limits of the rules. They must also generate a financial support for their project and manage their educational priorities.            

Each team's goal is to design and build a single-seat, all-terrain, sporting vehicle whose structure contains the driver. The vehicle is to be a prototype for a reliable, maintainable, ergonomic, and economic production vehicle which serves a recreational user market, sized at approximately 4000 units per year. The vehicle should aspire to market- leading performance in terms of speed, handling, ride, and ruggedness over rough terrain and off-road conditions. Performance will be measured by success in the dynamic events which are described in the Baja SAE Rules, and are subject to event-site weather and course conditions.”

The 2012 Baja SAE Series consists of six competitions. Three competitions are held in North America under the sponsorship of SAE: Baja SAE Auburn hosted by the University of Auburn,  Baja SAE Oregon hosted by SAE Oregon Section,  and Baja SAE Wisconsin hosted by the SAE Midwest Section.

Baja SAE competitions held in Africa, Asia and South America are associated with SAE, but organized and sponsored by their local hosts: Baja SAE Brazil – Sponsored and hosted by SAE BRAZIL, Baja SAE Korea – Sponsored and hosted by Yeungnam University,  Baja SAE South Africa – Sponsored by Sasol and hosted by the University of Pretoria.

NMU Car in Action

NMU Baja Team Gunning for a Top 5 Finish

in February 2012

Mud Corner
The NMU Baja team competed in the National Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition held this summer in Peoria, Illinois. NMU students including Matthew Barbercheck, Jimmy Hilbrecht, Brad Richard, Andrew Shafer, Dan Klim, Jared Schimke, and Chris Robinson participated in the competition. Finishing 69th overall in a field of 115 teams, the NMU team improved their rank from the previous year in almost all categories.  Matthew Barbercheck drove the car to a 48th place finish in the Rock Crawl event , and Andrew Shafer piloted the car to a 52nd place finish in the Maneuverability event.

Originating in 1976, the SAE Baja Competition Series has become one of the premier engineering design competitions for University teams from around the nation and around the world. The competition is designed to push a student’s understanding of engineering principles and real-life engineering challenges that they must overcome to design, build and race an off-road race car. Students gain valuable knowledge and experience from this program unlike any classroom ever could.  The project includes everything from fundraising and engineering to fabricating and racing a complete and functional prototype of an off-road vehicle.  The NMU Baja team has competed in the SAE Baja Series in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.   In the past year the NMU team also competed in two races, the Michigan Tech Winter Baja and the Oregon SAE Baja event. 

Action in the pitsThe 2011 car represents a couple of milestones for the NMU team.  The 2011 car is 200 pounds lighter than the 2010 car and it has a much shorter wheelbase than the 2010 car.   The NMU Baja team is now designing and building a new Baja car to compete in upcoming 2012 competitions.   The 2012 car is designed to be lighter, shorter, and have a lower center of gravity than the 2011 car.   After an 11th place finishing at the MTU race in 2011, look for the NMU in the top 5 at MTU race in February 2012!

More information regarding Baja SAE can be found at:

- The SAE website:

-YouTube video of NMU at 2011 MTU race:

A New Partnership: NMU Baja & Team Kshatriya International

Team Kshatriya

NMU Baja SAE has recently reached across international borders to support Baja Team Kshatriya International of India (KI). The teams first met at the Baja SAE Illinois 2011 when Kshatriyan team members entered NMU Baja’s pit in need of a welder. Andy Shafer, Vice President of the team, fulfilled their needs by welding their front suspension components back together, as well as their rear axles. Andy has kept in contact with Kshatriya International representative, Ayush Sood, ever since the occurrence.

In 2012, NMU Baja continued to support the international team with general building tips and suggestions involving rear suspension geometry and shock placement. NMU’s team was then asked by KI to be their partner school in the United States to act as a middle man to ship parts received from their sponsor, Polaris, to India. Wildcat Baja will also continue providing helpful advice in the future and at other race events.

The next race Team Kshatriya International expects to be at is Baja SAE Rochester from June 6-9 in Rochester, NY where both teams will compete against up to 100 schools, among other international teams such as Brazil and Mexico. Be on the lookout for more Baja updates as they ready car 23 for Michigan Tech’s Winter Baja Competition in Houghton, Mich. February 16.

Team PhotoThe Northern Michigan University (NMU) SAE Baja Wildcat Racing team raced two cars in the 2011 Michigan Technological University (MTU) Winter Baja race held in Lake Linden Michigan on February 19 2011.  The new 2011 car  finished strong placing 10th out of 40 cars.  The final results are not yet in, but the 2010 car appears to have finished in 20th place.

The MTU Winter Baja race consists of two 2-hour endurance races held on a 1-mile long snow covered course.  The course includes several moguls, twisty turns, table top jumps, as well as a few straightaways for speed. 

The 2011 car represents a couple of milestones for the NMU team.  This is the first time the team has completed a new car in time to test at the MTU Winter race.  With the additional time for testing and modifying, the NMU Wildcat Racing team should have a much better car running in the international race held June 10-11 in Peoria IL.  The 2011 car is 200 pounds lighter than the 2010 car and has a much shorter wheelbase.

Watch a short video of the event put together by Andy Shafer one of the team members.

Some pictures of our cars competing.

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

2011 NMU Baja Team Competition

 NMU Wildcat Racing Team Competes in an SAE Baja Race

NMU Wildcat Racing Team Competes in an SAE Baja Race

This summer, six Northern Michigan University students traveled to Bellingham, Washington for the 2010 SAE Baja West Race that was held May 19-22 and hosted by Western Washington University. Team members that traveled to Washington include: Matt Barbercheck, Kyle St. John, Jim Hilbrecht, Brad Richard, Ian Fox, and Curtis Wennersten along with Dr. Robert Marlor the team faculty sponsor.  To visit their Facebook page click here

SAE Baja is an intercollegiate design competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Teams of students from various universities around the world design and build small off-road cars with engines of the same specifications.  The goal is to design, build, and race off-road vehicles that are highly maneuverable and can withstand extremely harsh terrain.  The schedule of events at SAE Baja competitions includes a cost report, a design report, a design interview with judges, a technical inspection, a braking test, and short races including acceleration, maneuverability, hill climb, and rock crawl. The main event is an exciting four-hour endurance race in which cars are able to race at top speed over a motocross race track.

NMU Wildcat Racing Team Competes in an SAE Baja RaceNMU students have participated in SAE Baja races in the past and continue to gain practical knowledge in the engineering field from these great experiences. This year, after competing in the short events, the NMU Wildcat Racing team looked forward to a good endurance race, but an unfortunate collision with two other cars resulted in a time consuming steering rack repair in the pits. As team sponsor Curt Tucker from Team Tech Motorsports put it, “that’s racing!” 

“From observing other teams, our breakdowns in the pits, talking to race professionals, and the trip in its entirety, we learned a semesters worth of knowledge,” Matt Barbercheck stated. “If it's any compensation, I feel I learned more in the pits than I would have if we would have raced the whole time.”

The standard for vehicle maneuverability in SAE Baja competitions was raised in Washington. Eighty-five cars attempted the maneuverability course, but only thirty managed to complete the circuit without going out of bounds.  Seventy-five points were possible for this event, but fifty-five teams (including NMU) were not awarded any points.

Maneuverability was also tested in the two main events of the race: the Hill Climb event and the Rock Crawl event.

In Portland, Oregon, back in 2009, the Hill Climb event consisted of a straight line over rocks and logs. In Washington, however, the 2010 Hill Climb event tested the combined maneuverability, acceleration, and climbing ability of the Baja cars.

NMU Wildcat Racing Team Competes in an SAE Baja RaceThe course was not just a straight line like last year. The course was a maze of maneuverability - starting downhill, taking a steep climb with a tight left turn at the top, then continuing downhill with a 360 degree turn around a barrel at the bottom of the hill, and ending in a second steep climb.  NMU’s Wildcat Racing Team completed each part of the maze, except for the top portion of the last steep climb.

The Rock Crawl event was notable for featuring an emphasis on ground clearance, suspension travel, and maneuverability.  The course looked so rigorous that ten teams didn’t even attempt the event. Of the remaining teams who took a chance on it, only fifteen were able to complete the entire 530 foot long course. Sharp turns and a series of two feet high concrete walls spaced two feet apart trapped most cars before reaching the 400 foot mark. The trick of the trade was to carry enough speed through the sharp left turn which would enable the car to bounce along the tops of the concrete walls.

Barbercheck was positively influenced on the trip, as were his team members.

“Friendships were established and strengthened that I am confident will last a lifetime. Team management skills were required and improved. Expectations were fully realized and acknowledged.” 

Barbercheck affirmed that through all the challenges, he can already tell how far the team has come, including many improvements that will contribute to the team’s success in the coming year. 

The members of the NMU Wildcat Racing team would like to thank Northern Michigan University, Argonics, Team Tech Motorsports, and Bald Eagle-Harley Davidson for their donations; as well as thanking Eagle Mills Northwest Inc. for their technical support.

Matt Barbercheck sums up the 2010 Baja SAE Race out in Bellingham, Washington the best: “Maybe we didn't earn the $1500 first prize, but the prizes we did earn—the knowledge, the experience, the teamwork—can't be priced.”

BAJA car

Baja Team Gets the Shaft, Completes the Race

In preparation for the 2009 Winter Baja, hosted in Lake Linden by Michigan Tech, the NMU Baja team had made some improvements to their car. To account for the icy course, they installed winter tires with traction. The clutch and steering were enhanced.

But as the car joined the other 38 dune buggy-style cars from other universities around the country—double the number of entrants the race has had in the past—one thing went wrong that they never would have expected. The course featured some small jumps, and as the NMU Baja car caught some air, the wheels spun, and when it landed, the car’s power was significantly reduced.

“All of a sudden, it was, ‘Oh! We don’t have traction!” says Baja club adviser Dr. Robert Marlor.

The car limped into the pits, and the team discovered that the CV shaft, which transfers the power from the axle to the rear wheel, had snapped in half.

“It was a nice clean cut, almost like someone had cut it,” says John Sanchez, a member of the team who recently graduated from NMU and now works at Argonics in Marquette.

No one knows for sure what caused the break, but Sanchez guesses that when the wheels spun so fast in the air after the jump, and then slowed down abruptly on the landing, it caused too much tension on the CV shaft, and it broke.

“A lot people were pretty discouraged about it,” Sanchez says. The team thought about continuing the rest of the race with only one-wheel power, and ultimately sent the car for another lap without the broken shaft. In the meantime, though, Sanchez went to work.

“I had the idea of trying to weld it together,” he says. “I was confident that I could do it straight.”

His teammates and adviser were concerned.

“We thought it wouldn’t work,” Marlor says. “We thought it would vibrate” and cause more damage to the car. But, “you get very innovative, because you say, ‘Well, I’m going to try this because we don’t have any other options.’”

Sanchez ground down both sides of the break to make them even more flat, tacked the two pieces together, and continue to refine it until it was straight enough to weld.

“The weld that John did was amazing,” Marlor says. “He mostly eyeballed it, and got it straight enough so that it stayed on and worked.”

Sure enough, the next time the car came back around, it stopped again in the pits, and the shaft was replaced. Twenty laps later, it was still going strong, and it finished the race.

The next event was a big air competition. Unfortunately, the NMU car’s ignition went out before they could have the chance to go over the jump, and they were forced to watch, rather than participate. Still, after Marlor saw other teams jump, tip, and do a complete somersault down the slope of the icy ramp, he wasn’t disappointed that his team had to sit out.

“Those are the types of things that give advisers conniptions and nightmares,” Marlor says. “But it was cool to see someone else do it.”

The Winter Baja race helped to give the NMU team more experience behind the wheel. But it also exposed them to other schools’ cars.

“It was a lot of fun,” says Jesse Nye, another student on the team. “It was nice to walk around and see other schools’ new designs. We got some good suspension ideas.”

Nye and Sanchez were joined by fellow students Doug Maves, Alex Rae, Craig Wiseman, Ted Grabow, Kyle St. John, Anne Pettinger, Josh Mead, Matt Barbercheck and Ryan Stenger.

Next up for the team is a competition May 8-10 in Portland, Oregon.

NMU Students Compete in International Baja Race

It was a bumpy road, but that was to be expected.

This summer, the NMU Society of Automotive Engineers Baja Team competed in the 2008 SAE Baja Montreal Race. And, despite battling knee-deep mud, table-top jumps, and a repair list a mile long, the team can’t wait to do it again.2008 Baja Team

It was the third time in four years that NMU had sent a team to compete with their dune-buggy style racer. The race this year featured 122 teams from universities around the world. This year’s team consisted of a new advisor and all new student members: Dr. Robert Marlor of the Engineering Technology Department, Mike Brunetti, Jesse Nye, Doug Maves, John Sanchez, and Alex Rae.

The team started designing the car in September 2007, with their eyes first on February 16, 2008, the date of a Baja race at Michigan Tech. That race was supposed to be a warm-up before the Baja Montreal Race in June, which was the most important race of the year.

The team of five divided the labor and set about fabricating the car, from frame design to suspension, steering, and transmission. Rather than use a transmission similar to those found in snow mobiles, which are the standard transmissions used in about 95 percent of all Baja cars, the NMU team decided to take a risk and try a hydraulic transmission system, like those found in riding lawn mowers or industrial tractors. It was an innovative design, and a risk, but they thought it could give them an edge.

The night before they were supposed to leave for the race, however, they learned that their transmission pump had failed. They stayed up all night trying to fix it, but when 6 a.m. rolled around, they decided they had better give up on the first race and focus on the next instead.

“We took a long break after that,” Brunetti said. “We were pretty bummed. We had put in about two months straight working on this thing.”

But they didn’t lose sight of their goal. Maves’s reaction was, “What’s next?” They knew the hydraulic transmission wouldn’t work, so they tried a dirt bike transmission instead. Ultimately, they settled on the snow mobile transmission.

After a few more months of fine tuning, the team embarked on the 19-hour drive that brought them to Magog, a ski resort town outside of Montreal, in time for the June 11-14 event. But that wasn’t the end of their troubles. Before the four-part competition, each of the 122 cars had to pass technical inspections.

“We were rookies,” Sanchez says. “We were shocked at how much detail they went into in inspections. There were hundreds of items.”

“They checked to make sure you had twisted the safety wires in the right direction to secure your nuts and bolts,” Nye said. “Only nine teams out of the 122 made it through on the first try.”

Because of delays with the inspections, the NMU team missed some of the early events of the competition. The first event they participated in was Suspension and Traction. Sanchez was selected as driver for the one-lap race, and he was the first to get a taste of the mud.

“The course was made to break the buggies,” Sanchez says. “You had to crawl over rocks, up steep hills, and go through deep mud. There was a lot of mud when I was trying to cross a river, and I got hung up. The tires were spinning, and the belt was spinning, and it burnt the clutches up, so we didn’t finish. It was really cool, though. Our tires were aggressive ATV tires, and they were flinging that mud like ten feet in the air when they were trucking through.”

And so, once again, the transmission proved to be troublesome. As Marlor points out, this was the first time any NMU team had tried to use the standard transmission, and it still wasn’t equipped to handle the course.

But the team was able to find plenty of help in repairing their car for the main event: the endurance race.

“I was impressed with the degree of camaraderie among teams in the pits,” Marlor says. “It was great sportsmanship.

Brunetti says, “It took about ten minutes to find replacement parts.”

“Some teams even helped us weld,” Sanchez says.

Those on-the-fly repairs in the pits proved to be good experience, because in the endurance race, the course once again got the better of the car. The goal was to complete as many laps around the course as possible in four hours.

The first lap was uneventful. But when Maves took the wheel and went over the table-top jump during the second lap, the steering shaft broke, and the steering wheel came off. The car had to be towed back to the pits and welded back together. Each lap brought new problems, but the team was able to complete four laps in between repairs to the car. The team finished 89th out of 122 in the endurance race and 99th overall.

Regardless of the results, the team members were happy. As Brunetti points out, after all of the testing around the Jacobetti Complex in the preceding months, the endurance race was the first opportunity they had to really drive the car and push its limits.

Next year, Brunetti says, the goal is to make at least the top 25 percent.

Sanchez says, “For how much we learned this time, we could compete in all the events, and all four hours of the endurance race. If we do that, how well we place will just come naturally.”

The NMU SAE Baja team is funded by a grant through NMU, as well as by its sponsors: Argonics, Fastenal, Team Tech Motor Sports, and Atlas Gear Company. The team is looking for new members. Those interested should contact Dr. Marlor at

Baja Team on Noquemanon Trail

Baja Team Members

Recently the NMU SAE Baja team along with members of the Negaunee Lions Club cleared 6 miles of cross-country ski trail for the Noquemanon Ski Marathon.  Club members participating were Jimmy Hilbrecht, Kyle St. John, Brad Richard, Chris Robinson, Dan Klim, and Ian Fox, along with faculty advisor Bob Marlor.

The Noquemanon Ski Marathon is a 30-mile point-to-point cross-country ski race that starts in Ishpeming and finishes in Marquette at NMU’s Superior Dome.  For the past two years, the Baja team has partnered with the Negaunee Lions Club to prepare this 6-mile section of the trail for the race in January.   In the fall, before the snow accumulates, the trail is cleared of brush and downed trees, of which there were several this year due to 50 mph winds in the last week of October.  In the few weeks leading up the race, the team packs the trail with snowmobiles, because the combination of steep hills and deep snow is too much for the large trail groomers to negotiate.

“The NMU SAE Baja team has become more involved with community service projects in recent years” notes faculty advisor Bob Marlor, “The students have found that community service projects not only benefit community organizations, they are a wonderful  team-building activity.  These students spend up to 10 hours a week working together intensively to design and build an off-road race car for national collegiate competitions.   It is nice to for the team members to occasionally get away from this huge project and get to know one another other in another setting.”