Editor’s note: This is the latest installation in a yearlong series about ASU's Formula SAEFormula SAE is a student design competition organized by the International Society of Automotive Engineers (now known as SAE International). team. Find links to previous stories at the end of this article.
It’s the Saturday of the Territorial Cup game. While a sea of students in gold T-shirts offering “No Pity for the Kitty” heads towards the stadium and hundreds of tailgate parties, the dedicated students of the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers are skipping Arizona State University’s most important day of the year to work on their race car.
Financially, they’re in better shape than they were a few weeks ago, when they had $600 in the bank. It’s relative. Instead of hanging on by the skin of their teeth, they’re hanging on by their teeth.
“We’re not overfunded by any means,” said team manager Troy Buhr, a junior in mechanical engineering.
Buhr is in the stadium parking lot at an unbelievably elaborate tailgate party — capable of hosting more than 70 people — but he’s not hoisting a beer. Last year’s car sits beside a Formula SAE table with promotional materials. Buhr’s out to see if he can win interest and hopefully some money at the same time.
“We’re here at the tailgate to get our name out there,” he said. “At an event like this it’s going to be individuals.”
The tailgate was hosted by Ray Bilby, vice president of sales and marketing at Trafficade, Formula SAE’s latest sponsor. Trafficade is an Arizona traffic-safety company, specializing in things like pavement milling and asphalt repair. It’s appropriate they sponsor a race car, because a car is the vantage point from which most people watch their work.
“We’re still working hard on sponsorship,” Buhr said. “We’re covering our bills. ... We’re in a better place than we were, for sure.”
The club got a windfall recently when the university reimbursed them $4,000 in travel expenses from last summer’s trip to the national competition in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Ford Motor Company confirmed a $2,500 sponsorship, but that check won’t arrive for six weeks.
“If you try really hard, people tend to want to help you out,” Buhr said.
The student-led team is working toward the June Formula SAE competition in Lincoln. They had originally wanted to have the car built by January, so the majority of the spring semester could be spent on testing and improvements.
Building up to deadlines
Chief engineer Wes Kudela shuttled between the table at the stadium and the shop on campus where the car is being built. The build was going well, he said, but the nagging issue of money continued to be the biggest obstacle.
“The only thing we’re hurting on is lack of finances to buy stuff we need,” said Kudela, a senior in mechanical engineering. The 110-student-strong club has spent so much time getting last year’s car into shape for Homecoming and the Territorial Cup that Kudela reevaluated and updated deadlines.