Baja breaks out

Baja breaks out

CWRU Motorsports came roaring out of the pandemic to take a pair of coveted trophies at a national competition.

Their dune buggy-like, all-terrain vehicle shot up the hillside in a spray of dirt. When it crested the top, members of CWRU Motorsports erupted. They cheered the success of their engineering—and they cheered being back in action.


In May, the Case Baja team became one of the first of the engineering student groups to re-emerge from the pandemic at a live competition. The crew from CWRU made the most of it. They took two of the top awards, including a first place trophy for the Hill Climb, at SAE Louisville May 20-23.


“It was a wild year for us, and it was great to come home with the hardware,” said Wyatt Slifcak ’21, who lead the team to Louisville as captain of CWRU Motorsports.


“Essentially, our all-wheel drive system was just incredibly light and incredibly powerful,” he said. “We were the lightest car at the competition. That engineering was really critical to making the car handle well, and go up a hill trail.”


The accomplishments were made sweeter by the uncommon challenges. 


The Society of Automotive Engineers sponsors Baja SAE, inter-collegiate competitions that challenge engineering students to design and build an off road vehicle that can handle rough terrain. Typically, team members convene in the fall to begin to design and manufacture parts at Sears think[box], then build a vehicle to SAE standards. The pandemic closed think[box], delayed the racing season and made group meetings impossible.


The Case Alumni Foundation, the funding arm of the Case Alumni Association, helped the Baja enthusiasts to improvise. A $10,000 grant from the CAF made up for sponsorships lost to the pandemic, Slifcak said. Team members, who number about 30, worked via Zoom and sent designs to machine shops and to sponsors to obtain parts. They also paid for supplies out of their own pockets.


This year, for the first time, SAE called for an all-wheel drive vehicle. Team members dove into the design and assembly in February, when they re-gained access to think[box] and its tools and prototyping machines.


“We had this idea for a top secret system and we didn’t know if it was going to work,” Slifcak said. “So we made a four-wheel drive prototype to test it. We were basically able to build two cars.”


The competition car was completed in time for Louisville, but the team now had another problem: no money to travel. The Case Alumni Foundation came through again. It provided $3,500 to send 11 team members and faculty advisor Professor Richard Bachmann to the national competition.


“So all these people who worked their butts off all year were able to go,” Slifcak said. “CAA made that happen. Obviously, we’re incredibly grateful. There’s no way we would have been able to pull this off on our own.”

Janna Greer, the Manager of Donor Relations and Grants for the Case Alumni Association and foundation, described a good investment.


“When Wyatt reached out to me to let me know that they had permission to travel and compete, I was thrilled and knew the Foundation Board would appreciate the use of these funds,” she said. “Knowing what Baja has been able to achieve during this complicated year is a testament to all of the students’ dedication, passion and drive. I’m so proud of their accomplishments in Louisville!”


Against 60 collegiate teams, CWRU Motorsports placed 23rd overall at SAE Louisville and came home with two first place trophies. The Case team posted the two fastest times in both Maneuverability and the Hill Climb. 


Slifcak, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, feels the club is in good hands—led by engineering students Mike Buccieri ’22 and Leland Frantz ’22—and ready to roar into the post-pandemic world.


“I’m just absolutely amazed at the effort and the resilience the team showed,” he said, noting that some members invested 70 to 80 hours a week preparing for the competition. “We do it because we love it.”



The Baja team lifts the nimble car that won key events at SAE Louisville

Up and away

The Case car tackles the Hill Climb

“Essentially, our all-wheel drive system was just incredibly light and incredibly powerful. We were the lightest car at the competition. That engineering was really critical to making the car handle well, and go up a hill trail.”

— Wyatt Slifcak