Wreck Racing: Low Budget, Priceless Education

Happy New Year everyone! I’d like to kick things off with a guest blog from Speedhunters readers Jonathan Bowen, who is lead engineer of Georgia Tech’s “Wreck Racing” team. If you enjoy low budget race cars and grassroots engineering, I think you will enjoy this. Take it away, Jonathan!

-Mike

Hidden away in Georgia Tech’s Student Competition Center alongside the Formula SAE, solar car, and other teams, is a unique college engineering team blazing its own path. Instead of building a competition car to a strict formula rule set, the engineering students that make up the Wreck Racing team are instead challenged with the daunting task of buying and building a production-based race car for some $2000.

On any given night, you’ll find these dedicated students tirelessly working at building some of the most unique creations around.

Currently, our competition fleet is comprised of two cars: an E85-burning ‘92 Miata with a supercharged 1UZ-FE V8, and a soon-to-be-turbocharged, 2JZ-GE-powered ‘69 MG Midget.

Wreck Racing’s primary competition is the Grassroots Motorsports $20xx Challenge, where each entry’s budget limit is equal to the year. Labor, tools, and a few safety items do not count toward the budget, and you can sell unneeded items to recoup budget money. Any freebies must be entered at fair-market value.

The Challenge combines autocross, drag racing, and concours judging scores to crown the best of the budget brawlers, rewarding outside-the-box thinking and ingenuity rather than money-throwing. Fun fact: the even-scrappier 24 Hours of LeMons and Chump Car series were originally inspired by the GRM $2k Challenge.

This MG Midget is the team’s current GRM $2013 Challenge entry.

Its features include custom front frame rails and a Miata front suspension/crossmember.

At all four corners, double-adjustable Hayabusa rear coilovers (~$40/ea. on eBay) are mounted in a custom pushrod-rocker arm arrangement. Yep, those are skateboard bearings.

The rear axle is a shortened Ford (Explorer) 8.8 LSD, held in place by a custom, adjustable three-link suspension with Panhard bar.

Power comes from a Lexus SC300’s 2JZ-GE, tuned using a MegaSquirt EMS. The engine will soon be turbocharged, with the estimated power output being upward of 400 hp, all sent through a GM TH350 transmission.

This year’s $2013 Challenge falls on Nov 14-16, when this 2000 lb, 400-hp demon will truly be tested.

That’s not the whole story though. Wreck Racing now competes in GRM’s annual Ultimate Track Car Challenge as well, pitting our previous $2K Challenge car against high-dollar, all-out track terrors from all over the country.

The Miata you see here was the team’s most recent $2k Challenge car, but has retired from the competition after being awarded first place in the $2010 Challenge.

It is now being prepared for its second Ultimate Track Car Challenge outing on July 19, 2013.

Now that the Miata is no longer budget-limited, some projects underway include a smaller supercharger pulley, an R154 transmission, as well as more aero work.

Founded in 2003, Wreck Racing borrows its name from Georgia Tech’s signature fight song that boasts, “I’m a ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech and a helluva engineer!” In addition, the school’s mascot is a 1930 Ford Model A, affectionately named the “Ramblin’ Wreck.” The team typically retains over 20 active members. Over the years, the team has built several other cars, including a Golf GTI and a turbocharged BMW 3-series, all for GRM’s $2K Challenge. Before 2010, the team had never made it into the top ten, mostly due to reliability issues.

But after a few unsuccessful years campaigning the V8-powered Miata, the team cured its reliability issues and won the autocross and concours events, leading to the team’s first overall win at the $2010 Challenge.

Our dedicated all-student team devote countless hours to the cause, on top of their already-daunting courseloads. Work goes on year-round, with daily work nights and testing sessions often extending into the morning’s early hours.

How do we do it? How could anyone possibly build a car, much less a competitive race car for less than two grand? What our members lack in experience, they make up for with persistence and engineering skills learned in class. Being an engineer is all about creative problem solving, and there’s no better way to learn than having to build a car under such tight constraints.

Here are just few more examples of the creative solutions to stay under budget: The Miata’s A2W intercooler? Two halves of the Miata’s old radiator fed by a bilge pump in a discarded Igloo cooler. The supercharger itself? A junkyard Buick’s Eaton M90 – a measly $55. The MG’s turbo is a junkyard-sourced ($20!) Garrett GTA35 turbocharger from a natural gas-powered bus. Its engine mounts? Hockey pucks found under bleachers. As you may have guessed, dumpster-diving is a typical afternoon activity for Wreck Racers!

Nearly all automotive-specific items on the cars come from the local Pull-A-Part yards where engines can be had for around $160. Here’s one of the many 2JZs we’ve pulled from there.

Engineering tools and resources have been invaluable when researching which parts to use, how to integrate them into each subsystem, and predicting performance.

Not only is Wreck Racing a nice diversion from the classes, but it also supplements classroom education, offering hands-on experience where developing engineers can put to use the concepts they’re learning in class.

One of the things I’ve noticed since my first day was how members are constantly helping each other and striving to include everyone in various projects – with the end result being a close-knit team capable of taking on any challenge.

It may still seem impossible to some that anyone builds a whole car for $2000. That’s the point of this team and the Challenge itself! – to show there’s a solution to every problem. The limiting factor is your creativity.

Furthermore, the whole point of this competition is BUILDING the car, and Challenge competitors know that. The BUILD is the challenge. I like to think of the competition as just a get-together where like-minded car nuts can compare their ridiculous creations, that range anywhere from a twin-engined Scirroco to an SBC-powered Beetle to an active-aero C4 Corvette.

We just so happen to be doing the most fun things cars do – racing.

I’d like to give a big thank-you to our current sponsors: Georgia Tech SGA, General Motors, Caterpillar, MSC Ind. Supply, Atlanta Motorsports Park, Scott Seigel Racing, Hoosier Racing Tire, SafeRacer, DIYAutoTune.com, Gran Turismo East, Harrison Motorsports, UUC Motorwerks, and CashforTrucks.com. We couldn’t do this without you!
For more information, visit our website at wreckracing.com and like our Facebook page!

-Jonathan Bowen

Tags: , , , , ,



63 comments
Magic_Smoke
Magic_Smoke

Oh, and Bob from Pull-a-part: I am glad to say your lightning forecasts were wrong! I happened to take photos of one of the replacement engines we pulled from our local yard: http://imgur.com/a/kpmIv/all

I believe I was choosing among three or four that day! LS400s were plentiful, and most I found still had motors. That said, we did go through nearly half a dozen of them in a few years...a 200,000 mile motor with no rebuild + lots of boost = short lifespan, it seems.

Magic_Smoke
Magic_Smoke

Great article, Jonathan! I can't believe I had not seen this earlier.

Nikhil_P
Nikhil_P

oh my gawd!!! im on an automotive engineering degree and this is what my uni should be doing...!! Tie in Perfectly all the stuff we learn and puts it into practice! We have formula Student which is sponsored by the IMechE. Just a great shame that that the lecturer that head of this degree is a right lazy *£$"!"... i picked the wrong dam uni!!

In fact i may send this link to him...

Jonathan Bowen
Jonathan Bowen

Someone did mention how this is not really a low-budget build because of the tools, labor, and time involved. I whole-heartedly agree. What you don’t spend in parts, you spend (probably 2 or 3 times over) in time and effort. There are over 200 man-hours per week going into this build, inside and outside the shop. But as was mentioned, only the cost of the car and parts (at competition time) are included.

 

So in summary, this competition wouldn’t be called a Challenge if it were easy, or if you could put together parts for <$2000 by quickly searching on Google. You have to spend hours and hours, talk to tons of people, dumpster dive regularly, and search high and low for good deals. Also, you usually can’t afford to buy the best parts, so you have to choose your parts based on the budget. If you only have $200 for suspension (as was the case), you can’t afford nice coilovers, so you look at alternative methods of accomplishing the same thing. You don’t choose your parts then try to figure out how to fit them into the budget.

 

You should come check out the next GRM Challenge in Gainesville, FL, or at least read the GRM issue. We are not the only ones. And our build is nothing compared to many of our competitors. Some amazing creations show up there. Andy Nelson, Team External Combustion, and Condor Speed Shop come to mind, just to name a few.

 

Jonathan Bowen
Jonathan Bowen

Hey everyone, sounds like some of you had questions regarding the budget, as should be expected I suppose. Maybe this will help clear some things up.

 

Tires: We actually don't use new Hoosiers at comp. We do, however, use them for testing, which explains why the tires look so new in some of the pictures. I wish we could compete with new tires! But of course, with the strict budget limitation, we have to buy used ones. Believe it or not, you can find them for pretty cheap. I've even seen some sets for $100. Searching "USDRRT" on eBay usually turns up pretty good results, and here's a $200 set I found as the second result in a Google search for "hoosier a6 for sale": http://www.nasaforums.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=58595

 

Rod ends: Here’s the set of 8 I bought for $28.80: http://www.ebay.com/itm/4-LINK-3-8-x-3-8-24-ROD-END-KIT-HEIM-JOINTS-ENDS-HEIMS-/370639902792?pt=Motors_Car_Truck_Parts_Accessories&hash=item564bdc1848&vxp=mtr

This is actually quite expensive (relatively), and I’m hoping to find them cheaper, but I had to buy them fast at the time.

 

MegaSquirt: I’m guessing the $475 figure quoted was for a newer version. We are still using the solder-it-yourself MS 1 V3, which is $207 directly from DIYAutotune, but now that I think of it, we could probably find it cheaper from someone parting out a car…

http://www.diyautotune.com/catalog/megasquirti-programmable-efi-system-pcb30-kit-black-case-p-108.html

 

Transmission: $57.36 from Pull-a-Part. Practically every GM car ever came with the TH-350: http://www.pullapart.com/parts/pricing.aspx?letter=T&loc=21&#pricelist

 

Miata front suspension: We bought a junk Miata for $150, took off the front suspension, then sold the rear suspension, the shell (for scrap), and a lot of other stuff. We made over $150, but you can’t recoup more than the purchase price, so it just works out to be free. We also took off and used the Miata’s clutch master cylinder (now the MG’s front brake MC), the steering column, and the throttle pedal and cable.

 

Most of our steel (plate and tubing) comes from the scrap yard ($.40/lb) or dumpsters. For sheet metal, we usually cut up discarded filing cabinets, fridges, etc. The round tubes that connect the rectangular front frame rails to the upper firewall were actually cut from an old skateboard rail we found (the crappy 3-leg wobbly kind).

 

The MG itself was $650, and it was in near-running condition, so we were able to sell a ton of stuff off it, I believe around $800 total. But again, we can only claim $650 per the rules.

 

Matt
Matt

Have to agree with the other comments, even without the car, no way the budget for the listed parts and raw materials comes in under three grand.

Corey K
Corey K

I went to the wrong school!

hanablemoore
hanablemoore

I know everyone would agree with me when i text, this is how high school automechanics should be

cheechthechi
cheechthechi

Thanks Speedhunters for the feature! For any high schoolers out there considering engineering, check out Georgia Tech! I just graduated GT this semester and I had a blast during my time there. There aren't many schools in the world that will give you a full machine shop to build whatever you want!

Brian
Brian

I can't believe some of you are actually complaining, the students here are pouring their blood, sweat and tears into this thing with a tiny budget, yet you come out feet stomping, tears falling on how unfair this is. Grow up and enjoy, these kids have far more experience than you keyboard warriors ever will at this rate.

Nigel
Nigel

So math is not required for engineering majors?

$160 for an engine (claimed), $160 for shocks (claimed), turbocharger - $80 (p-n-p), GM transmission - $125 (p-n-p), Miata front suspension - $105+22+22+22+22+22 (p-n-p: subframe, 2 control arms, sway bar, 2 spindles) , Explorer rearend - $125 (p-n-p), four alloy wheels - $80 (p-n-p), Megasquirt - $425 (fair market value, minimum price from their own sponsor), Hoosier tires - $900+ (fair market value, minimum price from their own sponsor, tires count if not Kumho brand), how many yards of rectangular steel tubing to build the front frame at how much per foot?, how many yards of steel tubing to build the rear three link suspension and panhard rod at how much per foot?, how many heim joints at $14 each (at least 8 for the rear links and front cantilevers alone)?, how many feet of 4 inch steel round to make those front hubs in the drawing at how much per foot?, how much for that big tach bolted to the top of the dash?

Parts and materials are pushing over $3000, and no one mentioned the price of the car, or any of the pieces holding all those big things together.  The budget is supposed to be $2013 plus $1006 for selling parts off the car.

To hell with engineering, with that kind of creative math, these people should be tax attorneys or investment bankers.

Bob
Bob

I have been working at pull-a-part for 15 years.  Engines are $179.98, not $160, and your chances of being struck by lightning are better than your chances of finding a Lexus V8 in one of their yards.  For anything worth half as much as a Lexus we pull the engine before setting it out in the yard, and sell the engine to the used engine dealers.

This story reads more like a fairy tale than truth.  looks like a lot of lyin' going in in GA.

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

Oh, and as a former member or gt motorsport FSAE I can testify that 99.99% of the professors help about 0.0000000001%. A racing car is WAY to base for them to devote brain cells.

Honto Ni
Honto Ni

Very impressive results.

HOWEVER, it is unfair and inaccurate to call this "low budget".

Based on the group photo, you have 17 people supplying free labor.  Each of those persons is above novice level, and well on their path to becoming a professional in the engineering field.

All of these people have unlimited and free access to professionals for advice and consultation, those professionals being their professors.

The state of Georgia has provided the 17 people with a fully equipped shop with lifts, mills, welding equipment, computer drafting equipment and programs, etc.

And each of those 17 people are likely paying over $7,000 per year for tuition to attend the school which allows them participation in the program..

That's around $120,000 spent by the team members, and easily over $1,000,000 in facilities, equipment, professional direction, and labor.

It's clear that this is a semi-professional effort with a huge amount of money spent, even if the paperwork shows $2,000 spent on the vehicle.

Curlytop
Curlytop

This awesome, keep up the good work guys!

DaveT
DaveT

I need to go back to  school.

garth f
garth f

This could have kept me in school longer...

I hope more Universities get on board & go racing.

Just not too sure if it would translate so well for the aeronautical engineers!

Robby B
Robby B

Ok wait...theres no way you get a 1st gen Miata and a 1UZ-FE + super charger for under $2000. I might be tired from wrenching all day but did I miss something? That just seems completely impossible as those engines alone are worth more than that. How did they find one for under $2000 + car? 

majik16106
majik16106

Im an Atlanta boy, my brother was a Jacket. LOVE that these guys were featured. I have had the pleasure of speaking to members of this crew from several classes at various events over the years and every single one of them absolutely love what they do. Really passionate great group of guys.

JonathanW
JonathanW

Good stuff! Leaving University with practical as well as theoretical knowledge makes you so much more employable, as well as a better engineer  of course - anyone currently choosing schools should really have this kind of program high up their list of requirements

dtsan
dtsan

Freaking awesome! Especially since I'm going to school for Mechanical Engineering!

AnthonyThompson1
AnthonyThompson1

i would love nothing more than something like this were i am, would go for sure

vroomtothetomb
vroomtothetomb

Whoa! Great post! Fantastic way to start the new year!! Thanks again speedhunters! 

someguy
someguy

Need more stuff like this as well as fsae.

 

ssbeane
ssbeane

So awesome! Looking forward to doing this kind of thing myself sooner or later.

petewagen
petewagen

the twin engine scirocco is the "durocco."  it has a facebook page.  there are also a handfull of videos on youtube.

bradjh
bradjh

This is really cool, are you guys running any events at VIR this year?

Yossarian
Yossarian

How I envy those guys. Great work!


OFFICIAL SPEEDHUNTERS SUPPLIERS