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April 24, 2001


DALLAS (SMU) -- Engineering students from Southern Methodist University leave today for the 2001 Mini-Baja West Competition to be held at Kansas State University in Manhatten, Kan., April 25-28.

Thirteen members from the SMU Motorsports/Society of Automotive Engineers will enter two off-road vehicles powered by 10-horsepower Briggs and Stratton engines.

SMU will be competing with students from 86 universities from the U.S., Mexico and Canada. One hundred one vehicles are registered for the competition.

The entries will go through static and dynamic judging. Static judging is based on innovative design, safety features, the overall look of the vehicles and how they are put together. Dynamic judging is based on acceleration, maneuverability, performance on a hill climb and a grueling four-hour off-road endurance race. The teams also will make a sales presentation to engineers on manufacturing the vehicle that highlights construction, cost, safety and other features.

"This project is as close to a real engineering project as they are going to get in college," says Lorton Trent, SAE advisor and lab manager for mechanical engineering. "They get hands-on experience and they learn about the pitfalls of engineering."

Two teams from SMU will be competing in the 2001 Mini-Baja. In September, the teams set to work modifying the dune buggy used in last year's Mini-Baja and designed and built from scrap a new one, using a new streamlined body, driver ergonomics and a special new feature.

"As far as I know, we are the first team to have a completely removable drive train, which is an engine and transmission that is removable as a unit," says John Pulliam, a senior mechanical engineering student at SMU and SAE club president.

With this new feature, the team hopes to gain extra points in the design portion of the competition. It also will allow for the engine and transmission to be replaced faster and easier than before.

"This program takes what the students have learned in the classroom and applies it to real life. They learn the reality of engineering, how to organize, solve problems as they arise and deal with them effectively," Pulliam says.

In addition to Pulliam, students representing SMU in this year's Mini-Baja competition include first-year students Matt Dworaczyk, Brent Timmerman, Melissa Devlin, Ben Reid and Judah Epstein; sophomores Phillip Campbell, Chrissy Sills and Altay Dogru; junior JP Collins; and seniors Alberto Perez and Starbuck Laney. Club advisers are Mike Acosta, associate director of undergraduate enrollment and student development, and Mike Valent, a research engineer at SMU's Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Richardson.

In 2000, SMU's teams placed second and third in acceleration at the annual Mini-Baja competition. This year they hope to place in the top 10 overall.

"Our goals is to place well in all aspects of the competition and be consistent," Pulliam says.