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Baja racer showcases the power of human energy

Welder works on baja racer frame

Dr. Chris Bachmann discusses the baja racer project and a push to open competitions to alternative fuel vehicles.

There are some things best taught in the classroom. Others can be learned only through hands-on experience—like building a vehicle from scratch.

The JMU  “Baja” team consists of 10 JMU students who design, manufacture, promote, construct and raise their own funding to build a “Mini-Baja” vehicle. JMU competes multiple times each year against other schools and their vehicles in the Society of Automotive Engineers Mini Baja competition.

“The Baja competition gives students a chance to get involved with green energy,” said JMU Baja adviser Dan Drumheller. 

Working on the mini Baja, like other AFV projects, is open to all majors. ISAT, engineering, art, math, industrial design and SMAD students have all worked in the AFV lab.

For students like Baja team leader Tanner Cummings, it has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience.

“I have gained just as much knowledge in the lab as I have in the classroom because I am applying what I know to real world problems,” said Cummings. “Going to the lab on Fridays is not work to me, but pure fun.”

But the Baja team could not function without the leaders involved who donate their time. Drumheller, a double JMU alumnus who owns Valley Precision Inc. machine shop, volunteers his time and resources every Friday afternoon at the AFV.

“The education I got at JMU really helped me where I am today at Valley Precision,” said Drumheller. “I feel like I have an obligation to give back and teach these students about manufacturing.”

With the perspective as both a former student and a current employer, Drumheller notes how JMU students competing at Baja competitions will often get noticed by companies like Ford, Honda and Toyota. This experience is an invaluable resume booster because of the real-world applications.

“It is so important to get hands-on experience on something that is real,” said Drumheller. “Students get to work on a team, organize materials and get trained with all the tools and procedures.”

For students, it's an opportunity not only to build their own experiences, but also to help open the public up to new ones as well.

“It is not going to be one golden thing that solves the fuel problem. It is going to be many different solutions,” said Cummings. “We need to diversify the public’s fuel portfolio.”

Published November 2009