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Penn College Team Displays Resilience at International Competition

Pennsylvania College of Technology manufacturing students proved resilient against nature at the recent Baja SAE Tennessee Tech international competition. The students’ resourcefulness led to a higher finish than the previous year and renewed hope for a championship-caliber performance when they compete again in June.

Penn College ranked 30th overall out of 96 collegiate teams from throughout the United States and four other countries at the demanding Society of Automotive Engineers competition, held recently in Cookeville, Tennessee. Baja SAE requires teams to design and build a single-seat, off-road vehicle, make presentations to judges and complete various performance tests.

The dozen competing Penn College students recorded top-25 showings in maneuverability (12th), cost report (14th), sales presentation (17th), and sled pull (22nd). Only a tree stump separated the team from its main objective: a high finish in the four-hour endurance race, Baja SAE’s marquee event.

Nathan M. Eckstein, of Cambridge Springs, maneuvers Penn College’s off-road vehicle in the endurance-race portion of the recent Baja SAE Tennessee Tech competition.
Nathan M. Eckstein, of Cambridge Springs, maneuvers Penn College’s off-road vehicle in the endurance-race portion of the recent Baja SAE Tennessee Tech competition.

“The students worked so hard in designing and building a very competitive car,” said John G. Upcraft, instructor of automated manufacturing and machining and the team’s adviser. “We could have won the endurance race. It was there for us. It just slipped away. It’s heartbreaking.”

Despite starting in the 33rd position for the rough-terrain race, Penn College moved to second place within 45 minutes and held that spot for an hour until nature and bad luck intervened. The car hit a stump, which directed the rear of the vehicle into a tree. The impact snapped the trailing arm, which connects the rear axle and shocks to the chassis.

Instead of quitting, the students improvised. They sized and cut a larger-diameter tube, slid it over the broken arm like a sleeve, and welded the “new” part onto the car. Including towing time, it took them only 40 minutes to return to racing.

The accident dropped Penn College to 25th place, but the car steadily made up ground. That is until misfortune, more specifically the same tree stump, again sent the 380-pound vehicle off course. The resulting impact with the nearby tree damaged the vehicle’s left side A-arms and snapped its steering knuckle, which disabled the front wheels.

Team members were prepared for such a contingency, thanks to their spare sub-assembly, consisting of two A-arms and a steering knuckle. It took 20 minutes to remove the damaged components and install the sub-assembly. Unfortunately, the race ended moments before Penn College could return to the track.

A portrait of ingenuity, the Penn College Baja car rolls on.
A portrait of ingenuity, the Penn College Baja car rolls on.

“It’s disappointing, but I am proud of the way the students handled adversity,” Upcraft said. “They didn’t quit. They pulled together and made the necessary repairs. It was neat to watch that happen.”

Students representing Penn College at Baja SAE Tennessee were manufacturing engineering technology majors James A. Depasquale, of West Simsbury, Connecticut; Logan B. Goodhart, of Chambersburg; Jonathan R. Sutcliffe, of Orangeville; Jason B. Miller, of Mount Joy; Clinton R. Bettner, of Beaver Falls; Shane A. Linderman, of Leesport; Nathan M. Eckstein, of Cambridge Springs; and Shujaa AlQahtani, of State College; engineering design technology major Tanner A. Huff, of Altoona; engineering CAD technology major Ian E. Gardepe, of Hawley; and mechatronics engineering technology major Johnathan T. Capps, of North Wales.

Upcraft and John G. Marshalek, instructor of automated manufacturing and machining, accompanied them.

Many of those students are now busy preparing for the team’s next competition, Baja SAE Rochester. The team must manufacture replacement parts and spares of A-arms and steering knuckles, assemble the new components, and test the car before the June 9-12 competition in Rochester, New York.

“The good news is that we get a do-over,” Upcraft said. “We know we have a fast car. Our average lap time was 10 seconds faster than the winner of the endurance race in Tennessee. With some better luck, we can certainly contend for a top-5 finish in the Rochester endurance race, as well as improve our overall standing. We are looking forward to the opportunity!”

For information on manufacturing-related programs and other majors offered by the college’s School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For more about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Photos provided

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