Saginaw Valley State University Society running team overcomes challenges

Saginaw Valley State University’s Cardinal Formula Racing team has built the world’s fastest college race car twice (2008, 2014) and has placed in the top 20 teams multiple times in the Society’s Collegiate Design Series Formula of Automotive Engineers. Still, Brooks Byam, a professor of mechanical engineering at SVSU, described this year’s finish as the “most satisfying result” in his 25-year service as the team’s faculty advisor.

“We’ve had alumni achieve success as engineers on the NASCAR circuit and other competitive industries, and that determined spirit was on full display this year,” Byam said. “The team overcame header leaks and other challenges by managing their time, delegating tasks, making quick but effective decisions, and exhibiting phenomenal teamwork.”

Byam has earned a reputation in his field for guiding engineering students through adversity. He won the Carroll Smith Mentor’s Cup in 2013, awarded annually to a prominent advisor to the Society of Automotive Engineers faculty.

“They got through tech, pitch, nose and brakes with 55 minutes left before events closed,” he said.

The drama was just beginning for race team captain Sean McClary, an electrical engineering student from Bridgeport, and his teammates gathered at Michigan International Speedway.

“We got there so late in the day that it was raining,” McClary said, “and a race car on slicks in the rain isn’t too hot.” (Slicks are specialized racing tires.)

Still, the team managed to complete all 12 of their Dynamic Events that day. With 2 minutes to spare.

The next day, the team prepared to compete in the endurance portion of the competition, which is worth the most points toward the team’s total score.

“We qualified at the back of the pack for the endurance race,” McClary said. “This did not faze the team at all. We still knew we were building a fast car.

“When I went out on the track, I squeezed the car for every ounce of performance it could give. We were on the verge of traction at every corner, accelerating down the straights and, to put it bluntly, abusing our suspension and steering for all they’re worth. we were cooking. I passed seven or eight cars during the first leg.”

As if the team hadn’t faced (and overcome) enough challenges, they had one more hurdle to overcome.

When we stopped at the driver change midway, the car immediately started spewing coolant,” McClary said. “This did not stop our second driver, Lucas Leid. Through the second stretch, the traffic had mostly cleared, and he was able to put his foot down on the gas and get the car home.”

McClary recalled an old adage in race car engineering: A well-designed race car falls apart right after it crosses the finish line.

“We did our best to live up to that saying,” he joked. “At the end of the race, the rest of our coolant evaporated and the brakes seized from the heat. We had to push the car back into the paddock; that required half the team. Our performance in the endurance race shot us up from a possible 70th place going into the event.”

Ultimately, the SVSU team finished 31st out of the top 120 colleges and universities from around the world that competed May 17-20. SVSU moved ahead of schools like the University of Wisconsin-Madison (No. 55), Duke (No. 58), and Michigan Tech (No. 62).

The SVSU students on the team demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness and persistence during the competition. When the car failed MOT, everyone went to work. They engaged in extensive troubleshooting and eventually realized the problem was with a small tube that connects the engine to the exhaust system.

After dropping the pipe in the water, they found that it had developed around 20 combined holes and stress cracks due to wear. They re-welded the tubing and reassembled the car just 90 minutes before the track closed for the day.

The tradition of success at the Cardinal Formula Racing team is easy to explain, McClary said.

“Because SVSU takes the career team very seriously and because of the quality of the engineering program, combined with the dedication of the students.”

McClary is completing a summer internship in Texas with Peterbilt, a truck manufacturer, which he earned directly as a result of his experience with SVSU’s Cardinal Formula Racing program.

“Once you cross the barrier of taking what you learned in class and how to apply it, and realize that it’s more than just equations and formulas, that I can do real things with it, when you enter the workforce and start interviewing , you can show employers that you know how to turn knowledge into something useful. That’s when you start getting meaningful job offers,” McClary said.

During the school year, McClary worked part-time for Nexteer Automotive in Saginaw and plans to return to that position in August. He’s on track to graduate next May, but not before another season with the race team, one that might include a lot less race-day drama.