Skip to main content

Dayton Engineer

Group photo of Baja team with their built vehicle.

UD student SAE Baja team competes for first time in years

Many student organizations have periods of hiatus over the years. But all it takes is one eager student to bring it back to life.

The University of Dayton School of Engineering’s Society of Automotive Engineers — or the Baja team as they are known — is one of them. 

SAE International’s Baja competition has been around since 1976,” said Jeremy Price, vice president of the student organization. “We have spoken to UD alumni who competed in the 90s and early 2000s, but Dayton has not competed in many years.”

“We know that there was a team active as recently as 2019, but not competing,” said Sam Diller, president of the organization. “Unfortunately, the pandemic put an end to that team, and when I revived the club, we were starting over from scratch.”

Diller was eager to join the Baja team even before he became a Flyer. He learned about the organization during a visit to UD in high school. In the fall of 2022, Diller asked around about Baja, only to learn that the organization wasn’t fully active at the time. 

“I found that the people that were affiliated with it weren't very active. They made an effort to go watch one competition, and as far as I know that was their last formal meeting. I ended up working with the guy who was the former president and he passed the club logins and prior documents down to me,” Diller said. “At the beginning I heard a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I'll believe it when I see it’ and ‘You're the fifth person to ask about restarting Baja.’ I persisted and kept asking. Over the course of about a month I got all the right ‘yeses’ to get a space and get our accounts reactivated.”

Diller recruited a team of 15 students to build their first car over the course of 10 months for their first competition in September of 2023. The process included checking out library books on automotive design, teaching themselves to weld, spending summer weekends and even pulling all nighters to finish in time.

Many Baja teams choose to purchase parts such as a gearbox or knuckles for their cars, but UD’s team took on the challenge of custom building them — and they did just that.

“By August, the car was 80% done. After move-in, we had a whole team working on it almost every night of the week,” Price said. “It paid off, we had a car that ran by the second week of school.”

“We test drove it for the first time the Sunday before competition and we left Wednesday for competition,” Diller said.” During the last eight days, we had half or more of our members pulling all nighters to get it done.”

Building an offroad vehicle from scratch requires a tremendous amount of funding and resources, and UD’s Baja team would not have been able to do it by themselves. The team found connections with industry businesses willing to sponsor monetarily or by donating parts. For items the team still needed, they successfully pitched themselves to receive support.

They left for their first competition in many years during the second weekend of September.

“The first two days are engine inspection and technical inspections. We were nervous we weren’t going to pass the tech inspection,” Price said. “Other teams helped us determine what needed to be fixed. We stayed up all night to fix everything.”

Another sleepless night paid off and they passed. This allowed the team to compete in all dynamic events, in which they scored points in every event. Their next obstacle was the four-hour endurance race, which lived up to its daunting reputation for the UD team.

They completed nine laps before a trench-style obstacle swallowed their front left tire, exploded a ball joint, and ripped a suspension arm from the frame. The team of 15 students spent almost two hours fixing the issue before making it back on the track for one last “victory lap.”

Their “victory lap” didn’t mean winning the competition, but that they successfully finished the first competition in years with a working car. It was a victory in itself. 

The team placed 38th of 79, the top 50% of all teams in attendance. In certain individual events, the team was even able to place as high as the top 20.  

They are excited to race again in May of 2024. In the meantime, the organization of 60+ students have already begun repairing the car and brainstorming the build for their second car, which they hope to race for the first time in the spring of 2025.

Their achievements wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the individuals and industry businesses that were willing to sponsor through donations of money, parts and time.

“The overwhelming support that we've received has been amazing, especially from local companies going out of their way to help us,” Price said.

If you or your organization would like to support UD’s Baja team for their next competition or car build, donate to their Flyer Funder online fundraising page.

“Our main focus is to provide an engineering experience outside of the classroom that engineering students can come in and do something fun and competitive,” Price said. “And use the skills that they're learning in the classroom, build upon them, and learn new skills that they may not learn from their classes.”

For more information or to contact UD’s SAE Baja team, email 

Previous Post

National Science Foundation grant will help speed up semiconductor manufacturing

A $390,000 National Science Foundation grant will enable the University of Dayton to purchase equipment to create semiconductor chips and devices in hours rather than weeks, and at a significantly lower cost.
Read More
Next Post

Ghana students spend summer in Dayton through Ethos program

This summer, three students from Academic City University College in Ghana spent their time in Dayton through the School of Engineering’s Ethos Center.

Maame Twumasi, David Mensah and Wehdam Luguje took part in the Ethos Center’s Dayton immersion experience. Their immersions included working with the Westside Makerspace, Greater West Dayton Incubator and the Makerspace of DECA High School.

Read More