By Kevin Bonko (Mechanical Engineering, ’17)
Why do we stay up into the wee hours of the morning to paint a couple pieces of welded steel? Why do we drive countless hours to a dirt track in the middle of nowhere? Why do we wake up at 5:00AM on a Saturday morning to go to an off-road track at RIT? Because racecar. We build a racecar. This is a point that many of us forget, myself included. Yes, we are an engineering club. Yes, we build an off-road vehicle capable of climbing stairs. But at the end of the day, we build a racecar.
At the beginning of my presidency, I was looking at how to revamp our process for recruiting new members. Countless hours were spent on updating advertising material and posters, inserting wording that described what we do as a club. “We design, manufacture, test, and compete with a single-seater off-road vehicle” is the punchline I generally settled on. However, by the constant reminder of one of my teammates Laurence Lohman, “dude we build a RACECAR.” As a club, UR Baja SAE ultimately builds an off-road racecar, and I can never be so grateful for what this club has done for me.
I joined this team as a timid freshman looking to get some practical engineering experience under my belt. I knew how to use a screwdriver and a drill, but not much else. Within a few weeks, I was knees deep in changing engines on-and-off cars, replacing brake calipers, and ultimately rebuilding a vehicle. If you told me as a freshman that I would be elected as president of the best club at the University of Rochester, I would have shrugged my shoulders and laughed at you. Three years later, I find myself walking into a conference room, being told that I was elected as the next president.
During elections, I emphasize to each of the those nominated that I do not want to hear what Baja has done for you, but for what you have done for Baja. This racecar-building club has taken time I did not know I had and formed me into the mechanical engineer and person that I am today. I have met people that will forever shape how I look at the world around me and how I approach challenges. I learned that it takes a team to build this thing that is a Baja vehicle, no matter how talented a particular person or people are. This club, through all of the experiences and people I have met, defines who I am today.
Building a racecar should be a mandatory course for all mechanical engineers, not only for its practical applications, but for working in this team environment. There is not another team, organization, or club on this campus that eats dinner together every Friday as well as lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I know I can call any of my teammates, my family, at 3:00AM to pick me up from the airport, and those people will not only show up to pick me up but in a way that is obnoxious as possible for the sake of being obnoxious (you can use your imagination here). Build a racecar, make a family. Thank you UR Baja.