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


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60 comments
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!

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

@Nikhil_P I would reconsider sending THIS link, as you just call him a "right lazy @$"!"".

cheechthechi
cheechthechi

Thanks for the kind words. As a former member of Wreck Racing I can attest to the amount of hard work these guys put in, usually staying up till 12-1am everyday working on the car (and then having to work on school work), and many all nighters during a build season. I'm really proud of these guys and I hope that more colleges get on board with GRM, and that more high school kids consider engineering at Georgia Tech! 

ClaytonPayton
ClaytonPayton

I believe the contest doesn't count the cost of tires, nor the cost of safety equipment. 

cheechthechi
cheechthechi

Parts price listing from Pull-a-Part Atlanta East:

http://www.pullapart.com/parts/pricing.aspx?letter=&loc=21&#pricelist

 

8 cylinder engine is 143.39 and 164ish without a core. So if they had a core that means that they spent 155.22 with 8.25% sales tax.

 

Inventory listing for LS 400s (which had 1uzfes) for all three Atlanta yards.

http://www.pullapart.com/inventory/search.aspx

 

I have been to pull a part in all three Atlanta Locations, plus two other junkyards in Marietta and they are ALWAYS 1uzfes in the cars.  I've also been to Pick-a-Part in  Southern California, and Crazy Rays in Maryland and I see the same thing. They are not as desirable as you say, as most LS 400s are junked nowadays, and the 1uzfe has not had the aftermarket support as the ls1 or vq-35 engines. 

 

Maschinenbau
Maschinenbau

I've seen plenty of Lexuses (Lexi..?) at PAP in my area with their engines still untouched. I also found the prices for engines at the PAP that is probably closest to their school. This shows $131 for a 6 cyl. $160 is probably the price with tax. If you know what you're looking for and act quick when your car shows up, I don't see what's impossible about this.

 

http://i.imgur.com/IZdsN.png

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

@Bob Sorry man, but i've been there, in person, not at P-a-P but present, with my own eyes seeing multiple 1UZ engines bought for $400 - with harness and sometimes ECU (which, to your point, is 2x the P-a-P price). No lying, just very diligent searching and being shrewd. Also note that we're talking the 4.0 NOT 4.3. A lot of poeple are wary of the 4.0. On the plus side, sounds like YOUR particular yard takes some initiative with these desirable engines. Good plan.

Ron
Ron

If the Georgia Dept. of Education is going to waste my tax dollars, it's probably better they be wasted on cars than providing a farm system for the NFL.  But I'd rather have that money to put into my own car, than pay to maintain a million dollar machine shop for students who can't count to 2013.

Brian
Brian

This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, if you factored in any equipment, tutor fees and whatnot, you'd be asking them to scavenge nuts and bolts from the ground, melting it with wood fire, HAND molding the chassis, melting erasers for slicks, and of course hand tightening the rock forged wheels, since tools would overcome the $2013 budget, because clearly you have a problem with a working facility to construct a low-budget car, it is the VEHICLE itself that needs to be $2013. 

Brent
Brent

I'd love nothing more than to slap you.

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

Jealous much Kimosabe?

 

Pretty much all of the competitive teams at GRM have shops and use those resources and their own labor.  Say you have a 4-bay auto shop with 3 technicians.  Well, the shop and tools are worth about $2MM and each tech bills $75-$100/hr.  They work a couple hours a day (after work) 3d/week for a year to build the car.  So, by your argument THEY are now a $2MM+ team.  Or if I build it in my garage at home do i add the cost of my house?

 

You seem oddly perturbed by the fact that these kids are accomplishing this at school.  Lord forbid you learn anything but 5th dimension calculus at Tech.  Also the "over $7,000 per year" comes with more than a WR membership.  You get one helluva education and THAT is worth well more than the $120M.

 

The rules are very straightforward.  It's the CAR in it's final form that must be auditable at $20xx.

n49o7
n49o7

I'm jealous too, but you have to admit that hockey pucks, skateboard bearings and refrigerator parts are pretty low budget.

Mike Garrett
Mike Garrett moderator

Yeah most junkyards around here at least charge a flat rate for complete engines, 1UZs included.

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

A first gen miata with no title can be had for well under $1000, then sell all the stuff you dont need.  top, interior, engine, trans and you have spare budget.  The 1UZ-FE can be had for $400 and you dont even have to open it - just manage it and crank it up.  They listed the SC as $55.  Things get cheap when you shop at pick-a-part and not Jegs.

Brent
Brent

I dont know where your from but in Australia you can pick up 1uz's with everything for around $1000, sometimes less.

inspector_exacto
inspector_exacto

Chances are the guys running the junkyard just didn't know what that engine is. They just think "oh, a Toyota engine? You can have it for $XXX.XX". X= very cheap!

MorgzC
MorgzC

 @HumanCNC  @Nikhil_P I know exactly how you feel. In my third year of  "Automotive" engineering. Haven't touched a car since the first week...

Smith
Smith

 @ClaytonPayton 

14. All parts used at the event (including multiple sets of tires) shall be part of that $2012 budget.

25. Kumho Tires do not count towards the total budget. This is to thank Kumho for years of support for our event—and the fact that their tires kick ass.

The Hoosier tires, provided by the team sponsor, count.  And those look a lot larger than anything Hoosier sells for $225 each.

cheechthechi
cheechthechi

Oh yes and alloy wheels: Bronco rims that weigh 21.5 lbs each which we bought for $5 for all four. How? We negotiated with the previous owner to remove the new tires he had on those rims and mount them onto another set of rims he had in exchange for that price.

Thomas
Thomas

Read the rules.  Anything that wasn't attached to the car when it was bought, and is attached to the car at the time that it competes in the challenge, must be accounted for in the budget.  Nuts and bolts are supposed to be accounted for.  Any tire not made by the event sponsor is supposed to be accounted for.  That's why it's called a $2013 Challenge.

TJ
TJ

 @HumanCNC 

Shite like this happens because GRM are not professional enough to include rules even 24 Hours of Lemons and ChumpCar manage to follow.

 

Lemons:

1.4: Claiming Race: At the end of the competition, the Organizers may elect to purchase any vehicle from its owner(s) for $500. In 80 races and counting, we've claimed cars precisely twice. Don't piss us off so much that we raise that to three.

 

ChumpCar:

4.4.6. Penalty laps, if applied, shall be based on the “Total Competition Value” of any car. (See Section 5.7.2 of the rules, or just keep reading and you’ll get there eventually.)

4.4.7. Fabricated Components: Components fabricated by a race team, even though they may have near-zero cost associated with them, still have value. In order to promote equality across teams with no access to specialized machinery and equipment, fabricated components will be evaluated and valued in the following manner:

4.4.7.1. Any component that could reasonably and with relative quality be fabricated using readily available hand tools, basic hand-held power tools, a vice, hammer and a Harbor Freight mig/arc welder, will be valued at the cost of materials only.

4.4.7.2. Any component that requires or practically requires the use of a lathe, end mill, CNC, plasma/laser cutter, tig welder, press brake, shear or other specialty high-dollar equipment will be valued at the fair market value of similar components sold by retailers. You can still make them yourselves and save actual money on your build, but you need to account for them at a reasonable value as if you’d bought them.

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

@Orion Good Lord people. Since when was obeying the rules so controversial? This is NOT chumpcar or lemons. THEY have rules prohibiting fancy equipment and engineering. GRM DOES NOT. There is no hiding going on. No embezzlement. Look at ANY top contender at GRM and tell me that the "fair market value" of the car is $2,000. Can't do it, becuase, unlike chumpcar or lemons, THAT'S NOT THE POINT. If you dont like the rules, work to change them, dont whine about people who win by obeying them. Finding a creative solution to a complex problem while staying within the agreed upon rules is a VERY important part of engineering. Being only a lazy consumer and buying everything pre-done is, well, lazy.

Orion
Orion

Hiding where the money goes...

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

@NoCones Tony In my day gt motorsport ran plenty of fast clean laps at the Silverdome, in Australia, and at Leeds. You _are_ right though that engineers don't always make the best drivers.

NoCones Tony
NoCones Tony

 @HumanCNC  

Now that _YOU_ mention it, I have noticed that FSAE teams never seem to include a single member who can drive a clean or fast run to save their life.

Unless GRM supplies the driver for the challenge, so this may be a serious problem for the school teams.

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

@tenpennyjimmy @TJ Same reason jealous people look at a Ferrari and say: "i bet it's uncomfortable." Insult is easier than admiration.

tenpennyjimmy
tenpennyjimmy

 @HumanCNC  @TJExactly right Mr CNC. Also: irrespective of the rules regime it was built to, that Midget is BALLS OUT so why is anybody moaning about it?

HumanCNC
HumanCNC

@TJ ChumpCar and LeMons and very different competitons to GRM 20xx. THEY are much more about driving (therefore the verbose rules about NOT overengineering and figuring out how to make it "look" cheap). GRM 20xx is about innovative design, done by quasi-amateurs who pretty much ALL have access to "specialized" machenery. Hey, I COULD draw parts on paper and do stress analyses with pen and a claculator, but WHY? I'll use a CAD program and the FEA software that's handy. It's just different - if you want to run wheel to wheel on the cheap (and it's never ever cheap, really) go play LeMons or ChumpCar. If you're into innovative engineering and solo events, play at GRM. They're all fun and all different, providing room for peopel with different interests, skills and resorces all places to play (and make smoke). Also, you didn't use the word "fair" but your words hint at that thought process - a wise person recently said: " 'Fair' just means: according to the rules, not that the rules are perfect."


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