Baja Team Gears Up for Competition


By Samantha Phillips


The Youngstown State University chapter of the Society for Automotive Engineers will be competing at a Mini-Baja competition, sponsored by SAE, at the Tennessee Technological University from April 14-17.

(L-R): Kyle Hogan, Ben Saltsgiver, Nick Ammeen and Nick Buffa, members of the Youngstown State University chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers, stand with the mini Baja car they are building for a competition in Tennessee this weekend.

Teams from across the nation will compete alongside international teams from Canada, Brazil and Japan. They are tasked with designing and manufacturing a small, single-person off-road vehicle. Ten engineering students have been working on YSU’s vehicle since November.


“We put it through a series of tests [at the competition],” Nick Ammeen, a member of the team, said. “We try to make this thing last as long as it can. It’s quite fun.”


There is a day of individual events and a four-hour endurance race on the final day. The vehicle must pass many tests, including the endurance race, a chain pull, an uphill climb, a mud bog and non-performance tests, such as safety and design analyses.


Last year, the team finished 32nd overall at the competition in Alabama. Ammeen said they are improving every year.


“You take what you learn from previous years and build upon it,” Ammeen said. “We’ve been at a disadvantage because there are schools that have been doing this for 20 years non-stop … We’re trying to catch back up and get up to speed.”


Kyle Hogan, another participant, said all students are welcome to compete as long as they belong to SAE.


YSU’s team has received funding from Student Government Association, who funded their trip, Hovis Tire Pros, who donated tires, Youngstown Oxygen and Welding Supply, Penguin Powersports and Regal Tool and Die.


“Some companies donate a lot of stuff,” Hogan said. “A lot of the steel is donated, but a lot of stuff we have to fundraise for. We spend a lot of time fundraising.”


Ammeen said being a part of the team requires long hours and dedication, but it’s fun, and you get to connect with potential future employers.


“There’s a lot of companies that really look at this on your resume and a lot of companies that sponsor this event,” Ammeen said. “They hire specifically people who participate in these events, and they even hire on site at the competition.”


Sponsors include Cummins, Caterpillar, Honda and John Deere. Hogan said he secured a job with Honda specifically because they liked the work he did on the Baja team, and it helped him obtain an internship last summer as well.


“I’ve liked cars my whole life pretty much,” Hogan said. “I used to live too far away to do it, but when I moved closer, I immediately started doing this because it’s a really good learning opportunity.”


While the rules forbid professors from helping students with the project, Ben Saltsgiver, another team member, said they have gotten support from the engineering department and the college as a whole, as well as the dean and the provost.


“They’ve done a wonderful job,” Saltsgiver said.


He said being on the team gives students a chance to get hand-on experience with fabrication.


“One thing I’ve learned is … theoretical is quite different from reality,” he said.


He said the things they learn in the classroom transfer to their work.


“Because YSU is blue collar, we do have a lot of professors with industry experience,” Saltsgiver said. “They bring that directly into the classroom, so when we finally went to design these parts and the rest of it, we felt like we were ready to tackle the challenge.”