By Laurence Lohman (Chemical Engineering, ‘17)
Enzo Ferrari once said “what’s behind you doesn’t matter”, and after almost four years with the Baja team at UR, it does seem almost futile to condense my experiences into a single article. However, Enzo also said that “aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines”, so his advice may fail occasionally. After four years, seven competitions (with two more coming up), and thousands of hours in the shop, I would like to look back at it all.
I arrived at UR as a freshman with few ideas about what to do with myself. I knew that I wanted to learn about cars, and I also had a compulsion to build things; Baja provided an excellent opportunity to do both. For the first few weekends, I showed up for the car, but then I began to show up for the people. Through the older team members, I learned more than I had ever thought possible. I gained an understanding of best practices for design and fabrication and a new mindset for solving problems. I also learned a variety of new skills that are unknown to most students. These range from SolidWorks and TIG welding to heat treating suspension links in a household oven and living in the basement of Hopeman for a few days before competition. Through all of this, the team fueled my curiosity, motivation, and passion for engineering and racing.
No discussion of Baja would be complete without mentioning competitions, which may be the most memorable parts of my experience here. I was introduced to competition as a freshman at Midnight Mayhem, which reinforced my enthusiasm for the team. As I watched engines being repaired with a hair tie and the spring from a pair of vise grips, I knew that I wanted to learn and contribute as much as I could. Over the next few years, I attended competitions across the country, which provided the most fun and least sleep of my life. I say this despite the trials that competition threw at us; the lowest point was probably 26 hours of nonstop effort to get the brakes working in Tennessee last spring. However, competitions are the culmination of months (if not years) of effort, and seeing the car in action is worth all the late nights and roadblocks. This sense of validation is what keeps us coming back for more, trying to shave ounces from the car and seconds from our lap times.
The Baja team has always been passionate about what we do, but recently, we have become even more driven to be the best. A common characteristic of high-level racing drivers, mountaineers, and fighter pilots is a combination of audacity and humility. To succeed in these pursuits, one must sincerely believe that they are the best, and that they can perform flawlessly under immense pressure. However, one must also recognize that they have little control over the forces around them, and that everything can fail under the best conditions. I believe that successful racing teams must also have these qualities. We must believe in our ability to compete with the top teams; Baja teams do not accidentally finish in the top ten. We must also realize that the difference between first place and ‘Did Not Finish’ can be a single loose bolt or flat tire, and although everything may go wrong, we need to adapt and plan for it. To become a winning team, we must think like a winning team, which we are finally starting to do.
Looking back at my time with Baja, I have countless reasons to thank the team. I have made lifelong friends and gained skills that I would never have otherwise. Together, we have traveled across the country and learned an incredible amount about design, manufacturing, and racing. I think of the team as family, which is helpful because I have probably spent as much time with them as with my actual family over the past few years. More than anything else, I have never met a more committed, motivated, and determined group of people, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a part of the team. Thank you.