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Blazer Motorsports Launches Crowdfunding Effort to Send Baja Team to National Competition

baja2010 webThis archive photo shows the 2010 Baja team assembling their car. Increased funding would allow teams to improve design concepts from one year to the next.This Memorial Day weekend, Blazer Motorsports is taking a student-designed Baja SAE car to a competition where it hopes it can contend against the nation's best. To get there, the team is launching a crowdfunding campaign that it hopes will not only provide funds for this year's event but will help turn UAB's Baja team into a perennial power.

Over the past two years, this interdisciplinary team, which includes students from all five engineering departments as well as from other schools across campus, has been working on an improved Baja car to compete in Pittsburg, Kansas. Travel expenses for car and team are expected to be around $10,000.

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“At UAB, we have everything we need to have a championship Baja team,” said Steve Thompson, mentor for the 2017 team. “We finished third as recently as 2011, so we know we can contend with other schools in our region, but we’ve never had the continuity we need from one year to the next.”

Building a Championship Culture

With this crowdfunding effort, Thompson says the team is hoping to change the culture at UAB from one that views SAE Baja as an isolated engineering project to a transformative experience that draws on strengths from across campus.

drivetrain2017This custom drivetrain was built as part of a 2017 senior design team and will be installed in the 2018 car (see sidebar below).“There are a lot of advantages at UAB,” he says. “In terms of facilities, not only do we have a first-class materials lab, we have a foundry, a custom fabrication shop, a CNC (computer numeric control) lab. With those resources, there is no reason why we can’t be contenders. We just have to develop the culture here to do it.”

One big step toward developing that culture over the past year has been the inclusion of the UAB Makerspace in the project. Makerspace is an interdisciplinary student-run facility that has brought students from other academic disciplines to the Baja team. “They’ve really helped us organize students, particularly from the Collat School of Business, to help with marketing,” Thompson says. “One of the categories you’re judged on is marketing, so that is a key element.”

baja torch webAnother key element for 2018 will be the inclusion of students from the UAB Department of Art and Art History. “They’ve agreed to assist with the 2018 team, so we’ll have students who can help us with the graphic design elements to give the car a more professional look,” Thompson says. “It takes more than engineering. Other schools have heavy participation from art and business students, so to compete with them you have to have all three.”

At this point, the only missing piece is funding. “It is expensive to design and build a car, and we’ve been fortunate in the past to get funding for that from the School of Engineering,” he says. “The real expense comes when we take the car to competition. If the students have to pay out of pocket for that trip, that limits who can go, and we may end up with our strongest team members having to stay home.”

If the current crowdfund campaign can raise $10,000, Thompson says it could help cover this year’s trip, but the team would face the same challenges in 2018. If it reaches its goal of $20,000, however, he sees a bright future for Blazer Motorsports as a major factor in bringing students to UAB.

“I think students will come to school here for the chance to work on this team,” says Thompson. “For the type of kid who enjoys this activity, we offer a unique opportunity.”

Senior Design Projects

While all UAB students are welcome on the SAE Baja team, some high-level engineering tasks require an advanced touch. This spring, two teams from the departments of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering worked on specific components of the car.

One team developed a new frame that will be used on this year’s car. The other team worked on a drivetrain that will be installed on the 2018 car.

baja 2017 sdteamBaja Frame Senior Design Team

baja 2017 sdteam1Baja Drivetrain Senior Design Team