Pickled Egg Slalom Highlights Winter Baja National Invitational at Michigan Tech

Baja off-road racing vehicles designed and built by students line up at a snowy starting line on an invitational course at Michigan Technological University
Baja off-road racing vehicles designed and built by students line up at a snowy starting line on an invitational course at Michigan Technological University
Racers in student-built off-road vehicles line up for the start of the 2023 Baja Blizzard Winter Invitational. (Image credit: Mackenzie Johnson)

Michigan Technological University's 42nd annual Winter Baja Invitational treated competitors to a pickled egg slalom in addition to the usual thrills of a snowy hill climb and endurance race.

The 2023 Winter Baja held Jan. 28 attracted 45 vehicles from 22 universities, with teams taking on a one-mile snow and ice circuit created near Michigan Tech's Student Development Complex. Organizers said this year's event was one of the largest ever held.

Michigan Tech has been hosting Baja since 1981. It's considered one of the most exciting invitational events in the SAE International Collegiate Design Series, serving as a frozen dress rehearsal for the official SAE International Baja competitions. Those events take place each spring and summer in different locations across the nation, and are tentatively scheduled this year for Washington, Wisconsin and Ohio. In the Baja series, student engineers design and build their vehicles from scratch, incorporating an SAE-designated engine, then test vehicle performance in off-road competitions.

The student-led Blizzard Baja team, part of Michigan Tech's award-winning Enterprise program, organizes Winter Baja annually — on top of designing and building a new vehicle the team will enter in one or more of the national SAE Baja events. Students use leading-edge engineering and manufacturing processes to enhance vehicle performance. They focus on reducing vehicle mass, maximizing drivetrain efficiency, improving driver visibility and comfort, and optimizing off-road vehicle handling and maneuverability.

The 2023 Winter Baja began with a pickled egg slalom race. Drivers were required to race to the finish line, hop out of their vehicles and eat a pickled egg, a traditional Tech treat that's also considered a regional delicacy. After those tasks were completed, a new driver was required to jump into the vehicle and race it back to the starting line. 

Next came the hill climb race, with vehicles endeavoring to scale the heights of an approximately 15-foot snowbank created by the Michigan Tech Facilities crew, who piled snow with their endloaders for a few weeks prior to the race.

Competitors test their hill-climbing skills on Michigan Tech's Winter Baja course.
Hill-climb time at the 2023 Winter Baja Invitational at Michigan Tech. (Image credit: Peter LaMantia)

The main event is the endurance race. University of Iowa's Baja team finished first, with 55 laps around the course. See complete endurance race results in the Michigan Tech College of Engineering blog.

Michigan Tech's Baja team has a long history of success in SAE competitions — and Tech plays a major role in Baja history. The Winter Baja Invitational debuted at Michigan Tech in 1981 when Michigan Tech Professors Emeritus Bill Shapton (known as the father of mini-Baja, as it was originally known) and Larry Evers (nicknamed “Uncle Larry” by his students) created the event to provide students with hands-on engineering experience. One of the first Baja races led drivers through beaver dams, sand pits and the Keweenaw Peninsula wilderness from the ghost town of Mandan to the edge of Lake Superior at Copper Harbor. Early Baja evolved through the years into a global engineering series with annual official SAE collegiate Baja racing events taking place in North America, South Africa, Brazil and South Korea. 

A Baja vehicle laying sidewise on the Winter Invitational Course at Michigan Tech.
Competitors put handling and maneuverability to the test. (Image credit: Andrew Erickson)

The People Who Made Winter Baja 2023 Possible

The Michigan Tech Blizzard Baja Enterprise team is advised by Kevin Johnson, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Steven Ma, professor of practice in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics.

Winter Baja Invitational's 2023 sponsors include McLaren Engineering, Milwaukee Tool, TeamTech, Daimler Truck, Kohler, Caterpillar, Pratt Miller, Ford, Professional Fabricating, Extreme Canopy, and locally, Diamond House International, LevelUp Apparel, Keweenaw Petroleum Service, Houghton Powersports, Houghton Fire Department and Superior Search and Rescue.

Senior computer engineering undergraduate Rithik Sawant served as the 2023 Winter Baja coordinator. Nagesh Hatti is Michigan Tech's Enterprise Program director. Winter Baja photography is by Michigan Tech students Andrew Erickson, Mackenzie Johnson and Peter LaMantia.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.