Students to design and build a race car to enter in automotive engineering competitions

Ronald Bumgarner ’80 MS ’92 tinkered with a ’55 Willys Jeep when he was growing up. These days, it’s an ’04 Wrangler that Bumgarner, assistant professor of engineering and technology at Western Carolina University, modifies. One day he hopes to develop an electric commuting motorcycle and build an airplane – possibly an old Warbird replica.

Fast TrackMembers of the WCU student chapter of the Society of
Automotive Engineers examine a Formula One race car from
the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Bumgarner has a love for projects fraught with engineering challenges, and that’s just one reason he’s excited to work with the WCU students gearing up to design and build a race car to enter in a national Formula One racing series automotive engineering competition in 2011. His other reasons are academic: The WCU student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers offers another fun, hands-on activity that would challenge students’ interest in engineering and allow them to use the tools and skills they are learning in their courses.

“We initially had intentions of building a rock crawler as our first automotive project, but students this year jumped all over the quarter-scale Formula One racing series associated with SAE International,” said Bumgarner. In the competition, originally called the “Mini Indy,” a fictional manufacturing company contracts student design teams to develop a small Formula-style race car. Teams are evaluated at competition for their research, design, manufacturing, testing, developing, marketing, management and finances. “Students not only have to prepare a race car for competition but also explain the design and cost considerations required to produce the car,” said Bumgarner.

For Marshall Cannon, a freshman who wants to become an automotive engineer, the project is a perfect fit. Growing up near the Virginia International Raceway, Cannon always liked cars and earned a diploma from the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville before enrolling at WCU. “After working on cars, you see the flaws that they have, and I want to make them safer and better,” said Cannon. “For this project, we have to engineer everything from the ground up. That includes the suspension geometry, the frame, and figuring out how to put the motor in and install the engine management program.”

This is a building year for the team. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s automotive engineering program has loaned the group a previous Formula One car to use as an example. The group also has begun fundraising and prepared a sponsorship packet to share with those interested in making a tax-deductible donation to help with the cost of tools, parts, materials, safety gear and travel expenses. Top teams often have an annual $30,000 budget, said Bumgarner. WCU’s race car will be taken to area autocross events and the SAE competition in Michigan. Sponsor names and logos will be placed on the constructed race car, which will be displayed at campus and community events, as well as national and possibly international competitions.

For more information, send an e-mail to CatamountRacing@wcu.edu or call Ronald Bumgarner at 828.227.2157.