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Racing, Chasing, & Winning


“This weekend we have our event in Barnesville. Make sure you guys show up on Thursday to help pack the trailer. The truck is leaving at 2pm on Friday, followed by Van 1 at 3 and Van 2 at 4. Stay hydrated because it’s going to be hot with no wind. Let’s get to work guys.


Myself, Mathew Burgos, and a few other people helped pack up the trailer Thursday night. After being on the team starting with Caracci, who packed anything and everything for a day trip, seeing a mostly empty trailer was terrifying. I kept trying to reassure myself of the logic behind packing light. Well, we’re not going to have power there and we don’t have a generator, so no power tools. By that point we’d have other issues to worry about. Same with raw materials. No use in bringing stock. We’re really only going to have time for bolt-on replacements. Some suspension parts, brake spares, tires, a few nuts and bolts, and a can of assorted nuts… God, I hope nothing happens. We brought our big toolbox, as usual, with the pit cart, race suits, a set of slicks, and engine parts for a sponsor. That was about it. Scary thoughts, man…


Today is all about driving. I had Dynamics until four in the afternoon and the rest of my van had late classes as well, so we were the last to leave. Seeing as we got out before rush hour, we thought we’d grab a bite to eat at Laspadas before hitting the road. Then we get a message… We forgot the cable that goes to the ECU. Because we run Bosch, we can’t just run to Office Depot the next day and pick up an Ethernet cable. We turn around, grab the part, and get back out on the road… in the thick of rush hour traffic. Delicious.

When you give the new guy the camera smh

On the turnpike by 5:30, passing Fort Pierce by about 7:30-8pm. Yikes… Oh well. I like driving at night. Shouldn’t be too bad.

The sunset on the drive was beautiful. We were maybe an hour out from the exit for the 417 when the sky turned gold and red. Blake took a few picture for me. We were being followed by a storm, so to see the dark clouds block out part of the sunset was really cool. After that, we had some deep conversations about life before the rest of the car fell asleep somewhere in South Georgia.

After filling up in Tifton, we were set to make the rest of the journey to Marietta, Georgia, where KSU Motorsports was kind enough to let us crash at their houses while we were up there. Our ETA was 3:30AM. With the event set to start at 9AM, a mere five and a half hours later, it was going to be a rough day.

The other van and trailer made it to the house around 1 or 2AM. We started getting messages asking where we were, I told them, and they suggested we divert to the track and sleep there (the track was about an hour and a half closer than the house). That’s not a bad idea… We’ll do that. Diverted to the track, pulled in (it’s pitch black out, no lights whatsoever), got out our sleeping bags, and slept in our seats with the AC going. Blake was lucky – he got the back row all to himself. Tomorrow is going to be interesting, for sure…


Saturday came very early. I hadn’t slept much because a) trying to stay asleep in the driver’s seat isn’t comfortable if you can’t recline, and b) I was worried we’d run out of gas. We left the car running to keep the AC going and even though we had three quarters of a tank, I still checked it every time we woke up. We only burned less than an eighth. Once the sun rose, I took this glorious picture before we left for McDonald’s. Grabbed some food, changed into our uniforms, and headed back to the track.

The team had arrived while we were away. It was now 7:30 in the morning. The four other schools – Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Clemson, and KSU – were setting up shop, along with the local karters who were eager to get their track day started. It was a very strange sight seeing kids a quarter of my age getting into suits and helmets in preparation to drive their tiny little go-karts. At that age, the fastest thing I drove was a Power Wheels Jeep. We were to be worked into the rotation along with six or seven other karting classes.

The schedule of events for us was as follows: 0900 Practice 1; 1030 Practice 2; 1200 Practice 3; lunch; 1300 Practice 4; 1430 Practice 5; and concluding our day at 1600 with the timed laps.

Car was unpacked, sun deterrent device and shade producer (tent) was put up, and checklists were on their way to completion. I brought my quadcopter with me on this trip and was anxious to finally fly it. I can’t chase the car at FAU due to an airport being located literally right next door, so this was going to be a test to see who could outrun who. My camera gear was unpacked as well; 18-105mm lens on the camera with my 70-300mm in my pocket, shoulder rig on the camera, and polarizers for each lens. This was going to be another fast-paced day, so preparation was key.

The trailer being so empty was still making me nervous. My mind kept running different worst-case scenarios through my head. What if he goes off and bends a part? What if something electrical goes wrong? What if the car refuses to start? What if…? I’ll just keep taking pictures…

The design leads that came with us started going over the car while showing the new guys what’s what and what to watch out for. Once the car was prepped, it was time to line up on the grid. I didn’t fly the first round, but Mat did and got some pretty sweet video. Trent had already driven the track before two years ago, when Owls Racing was last invited to Lamar County, but OR-14 and OR-16 are very different animals. He took his time, got used to the feel of things, and completed his laps uneventfully. Next up was Clemson.

Clemson was doing fine until they pushed a little too hard and went off after the back straight. Luckily, he was already on the brakes before he went off and had plenty of distance between him, the tires, and eventually the fence. He made it to the tires but was OK. Nothing on the car broke and they were back out during the next practice.

I flew Practice 2, with Mat orbiting high above the track. We made a flight plan before takeoff to make sure we didn’t hit each other and the spectators. It was awesome chasing the car. My quad doesn’t have nearly the acceleration the car has due to its relatively heavy payload (multiple batteries, GoPro), but it was still crazy fun to chase the car. Having a birds-eye view of Trent’s driving was like nothing else. He’s so composed through each and every corner, letting the car step out only occasionally. Practice 2 was a little bit quicker than the first, now that the track and tires were warming up and Trent was getting used to the car and track.

This is when things started to change. KSU informed us their engine was having issues. They brought their older car with the same engine as us (GSX-R600). A bearing in the engine was acting weird. GT had their car torn apart and were huddled around it, blocking our view. Something had gone disastrously wrong over there. Georgia Southern had issues starting. Clemson and Owls Racing were the only two who didn’t seem to have any issues.

Lunch was amazing – it had calories… It was actually pretty good. The on-track concessions stand had burgers and hot dogs for sale. $10 got you chips, two drinks, a cheeseburger, and two hot dogs. It was so good. As you can tell by Trent’s flattering picture, we were all pretty hungry. And the food was pretty good. Juicy burgers, delicious hot dogs, cold canned soda, and crinkly bags of chips. Yum.

The latter half of the day was more practice followed by the final event at 4. Trent kept getting faster while the other schools battled mechanical issues and degrading tires. I had already flown 3 batteries during the day, so I was going to save my last two for later. I took up a spot at the end of the home straight to get a good picture of the car next to the checkered flag. It was time to go.

We were first up for the final event. All of the karters were done for the day, so those who were still around gathered along the fence to see what was about to happen. Unlike the karters, we could only go one at a time due to FSAE rules. We were concerned someone was going to blow an engine and dump oil on the track, similar to what happened in Michigan this past May. Not wanting to take any chances, we made sure we were first in line to go on the track. Trent fires her up, clicks into gear, and goes out for his flying start. Eight laps is all we get. This is where it counts. The previous rounds mean nothing. Leave it all on the track, right here, right now.

Coming around the last sweeper, throttles up, green flag across the line brakes hard into turn one back on the gas down the back straight to turns two and three. The announcer called out the times and kept calling us Florida Southern. Trent’s times were within half a second of each other. The gixr can be heard from miles around. The sound of a well-balanced, well-tuned, and well-kept engine rings out crisp and clean against a backdrop of wind and a loud speaker. bwaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! 13,500 rpm. Nearly 100 horsepower. 487 pounds. Nothing else like it.

Checkered flag, across the line, and Owls Racing has managed to complete an event without any troubles whatsoever. That might be a first in our history… Next up was Clemson. Their drive was uneventful and considerably slower. I think the off-track earlier in the day rattled the driver and he didn’t want to push it. Props to him for keeping it collected throughout the rest of the event. Georgia Tech, on the other hand…

Georgia Tech and FAU are huge rivals in FSAE. Every smaller competition we’ve gone to, like Barnesville, we’ve outperformed them overall. When we were first invited to Barnesville in 2014, we placed second, followed by Georgia Tech. At the Formula South Invitational hosted by our good friends at KSU Motorsports, we placed first, followed by Georgia Tech. That story can be read here. Even at Michigan, we still beat them. It just goes to show that a simple design isn’t all that bad to have.

As soon as they got out on track, the car started bucking like a bronco. They run a gixr just like us. You could tell the car was angry about something. The driver was barely able to coax the car around the sweeper to perform his flying start. The bucking continued all around the track for another few laps before he retired. I asked the engine guys what they thought the issue was – possible fuel starvation. A couple things could cause this. Obvious first question is Is the gas tank full? Probably, because he kept going long after he was experiencing trouble. Unless they have a long flat tank that allows gas to slosh around. Next step would be the fuel pump, the more likely culprit. Only thing you can really do there is get a new one. We never found out exactly what happened to them.

Georgia Southern was up. They fixed the issues they thought they had and completed their runs uneventfully.

KSU Motorsports was the last school to go. We had been talking with them earlier in the day when they found a critical problem on their car: one of the main bearings in the engine had failed. It was only a matter of time before the engine would seize or explode. They didn’t push hard on the final practice. During the timed event, as soon as they went out, the engine sounded raspy – not something you want to hear from anything. Having had gone through engine issues right before Michigan in 2015, I could relate to the KSU guys a little. Nothing sucks more than to work so hard all day only to have your car decide it wants out when you really need it.

The driver limped the car around the track for just a few laps at just above idle before pulling in next to Trent. I had mixed emotions about it. As a competitor, I wanted us to win. As an engineer who has to see how everything works, I really wanted to see how they would perform. They have a similar setup to ours but run a monocoque and a diffuser. Needless to say, everyone seemed happy at the end of the day.

Trophies were handed out after KSU pulled in. Mat took off to get some shots of all the car together. I prepped for a final flight as well after snapping off a few shots of the team being goofy. Once the track was clear, the organizers let us do a reverse run of the course to see how our car handled. The track has a large elevation change right after the first corner, leading down to turns three and four. So instead of flying down the track, we’d be going up into the first (now last) turn. According to Trent, it was sketchy at one point but extremely fast.

Overall, it was a great experience. This is my second victory with the team. Watching the new guys crawling over the car gave me hope that after my group leaves, Owls Racing will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. Bringing along some of the newer members showed them just what it means to be a part of SAE, although they won’t really get a feel for how big SAE really is until May. Blake wrote an excellent post about his experiences in Georgia – I’ll be curious to see what he thinks of Michigan, when 130 cars, not five, are all running around. When you run non-stop from 7AM to 6PM; when it starts to pour and everyone’s rushing to put on wets; when you don’t pass sound on the first attempt and you’re freaking out trying to think of ways to silence the motor.

They haven’t seen nothing yet.

- Kipp

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