event is an informal, but competitive Winter Baja race held on a motocross-style
track made out of snow! It was held February 18, 2012 at Lake Linden,
Michigan at the Public Park
2 Endurance Races (120 minutes each).
Take a favorite childhood pastime, scale it up, and get the whole community involved. You’ll end up with Michigan Tech’s annual Winter Baja event.
Harkening back to backyard go-kart tinkering, Winter Baja pits teams of racers against one another on a snow-and-ice track in their self-engineered vehicles--with the vehicle making the most laps in a two-hour period being declared the winner. Teams come from all over the state and the country to participate. Started in the 1980s, the event has grown each year and saw a record number of participants and community attendees at mid-February’s event in Lake Linden.
"It's really the only place to do this kind of thing," said Grant Cox, a senior mechanical engineering student and this year's Winter Baja coordinator. "Everywhere else, these kinds of races are on dirt tracks. But not up here."
Thanks to Cox and the rest of the Winter Baja team's year of planning, the event's popularity has skyrocketed. Through signage and advertisements placed throughout the community, and a healthy dose of word-of-mouth promoting on campus, the event had record-setting attendance.
"When the Baja started, there were ten or fifteen cars—a couple of teams from Wisconsin and Michigan," said Cox. "That shifted to fifteen or so schools, and now we're at twenty schools and fifty cars racing."
That kind of increase hasn’t come without its own set of challenges, Cox said.
"We had some new logistical challenges this year," he said. "We had to do wider tracks, have more concessions. I really think the participants would say it grew but still was even more organized than before."
Safety--and Mother Nature’s unseasonably warm temperatures--also had to be taken into consideration this year. Normally, the track's hardest feature is a twenty-to-thirty-foot snow jump. Not this year, though.
"There just wasn't enough snow," Cox added. "We went with a big ice rink in the middle of the track instead. Cars entered at high speed and could take one of two ways out: an easy way or a sharp left turn right on the ice."
As an endurance competition, the race isn't so much about whose car can make a lap in the shortest time, but whose team can keep their vehicle running the longest. With almost fifty cars starting the race, only about twenty were still left making laps at the end of the two-hour marathon.
The prize for having the best engineering know-how? Bragging rights--and a homemade trophy.
"We go around the shop here and find different things," Cox said. "We take bent rims, weld stuff together, and make a big '1,' '2,' and '3' for the teams that take first, second, and third."
Without a big cash prize, competitors decide to participate simply to put their classroom knowledge of rubber to the icy road--and to hopefully nab one of the makeshift trophies.
Ohio Northern, South Dakota School of Mines and Central Michigan took first, second and third place, respectively. Michigan Tech placed seventh with a total of 65 laps made in the two-hour race--compared to Ohio Northern's 75 and a half laps.
"This is really a big community event," Cox added. "We're all about the 'keep it in the UP' idea. This is the second-largest event in the town. This year, the weather was perfect--20 degrees, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. It's great to see so many families and community members coming to the event to have some fun."
Michigan Tech was one of the first schools to participate in the SAE sanctioned Mini Baja with event founder and team advisor Dr. William
Shapton. Starting in 1981, Michigan Tech hosted the first ever Winter
Baja - an event designed to test the off road vehicle in winter's worst
Winter Baja was successful during the eighties, but as the
decade came to a close, so did Winter Baja. Reinvigorated with a new
advisor, the Michigan Tech Mini Baja team redesigned the event
format and hosted the rebirth of Winter Baja in 2001. Since that time, the event has continued to grow, and is now one of the largest
Mini Baja events in the nation.