Racing Their Way to Finals

Engineering students gear up for the Junkyard Derby. Photo credit by Jesus Pacheco.
Engineering students gear up for the Junkyard Derby. Photo credit by Jesus Pacheco.

Engineering students scrape together cars from junk metal and race down Mandeville hill in TESC’s annual Junkyard Derby.

As Week 8 is rolling in, some students are quietly studying for their midterms and finals. However, east of the UCSD campus, others are working on something else entirely: building a derby car. The Triton Junkyard Derby is a UCSD tradition in which teams scour the local San Diego area for usable junk to build their own derby car. Having spent the weekend in a parking lot assembling their cars, these students will compete against other teams in a race down Mandeville Hill today.

This past Saturday’s calm afternoon was taken over by the sounds of machinery and tinkering. Many cars and pedestrians passed by wondering if there was road construction going on. Andreas Borzone, a sophomore working as a test committee member for the Junkyard Derby, believes that the derby is a good way for engineers to take part in a hands-on activity outside of classes.

“This event was created so that we can create things out of junk and metal. It brings out the engineers’ innovation with pieces of scrap metal,” Borzone said. “Alongside that, we like that this [event] can create teams and [bring] community to the engineers in a competitive way. … [It shows them] that engineering is not something that is just coursework.”

As piles and piles of bikes were laid out on the parking lot, the teams disassembled parts, including the wheels and frame, from them. Also spread out across the ground were tools and shopping carts as well as car doors. Team Sanchos, one of the teams participating in the event, plans to use past experience to help them this year.

“Our team members had experience last year. They know the mistakes they performed, and they are doing the best that they can do to prevent that this year,” Earl Warren College sophomore Edgar Baez Mozo said.

Darren Anthony, a chemical engineering junior, and his team, the E-lemon-ators, are newcomers to the derby. After attending a pre-event workshop last Tuesday, Anthony came to build with a general idea of which junk to grab and how to put it together, but the overall aspect of improvisation added something special to his experience.

“I think [building a Junkyard Derby car] is artistic in a way because it’s a special kind of creation when you have to think on your feet and do it quickly,” Anthony told the UCSD Guardian. “Improvised things are their own kind of art.”

For nanoengineering junior Robert Gilbert, this will be his third year attending this event. His team, Fast Like a NETS Car, is thinking of a new way to build the car.

“We are trying to think about how to put the whole thing together,” Gilbert said. “As far as inspiration goes, we just look at the junk and think, ‘Hey, I’ll make it work.’”

Many of the teams are not from campus, and some have been participating in this event year after year. The Triton Engineering Student Council welcomes anyone to apply and join. It would be happier if more people from the local San Diego area participated, but that is not its top priority. Many of the participants in the event are engineering majors, though the event encourages students from all majors to join.

“Although this is a way for engineers to work on [something] other than coursework, a lot of the teams here have never worked with things, such as an electric saw. There is an expert team of welders to weld for you and people helping you build your car,” Borzone said.

On race day, Mandeville Hill will be piled with stacks of hay for the event. This year, each derby car must be able to seat two people, with one person navigating the team’s car and the other person collecting hanging rings and stuffed animals. The winning team will be determined by the fastest duo with the most points. Even though not every team can win, Borzone believes the experience pays off.

“I enjoy working with people here. I like getting people to do whatever they want to do and seeing that they can build,” Borzone said.