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Teams Put Engineering Know-how to Test
in Race to Determine Fastest Boxcar on Campus

Catherine Hockmuth | May 23, 2011

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The UCSD bicycle club makes it to the semifinals at Junkyard Derby 2011.
View more Junkyard Derby 2011 photos on the Jacobs School of Engineering Flickr photostream

2,000 burgers. 300 participants. 39 teams. And a parking lot full of scrap metal and junk. Some play it safe with simple, clean designs. Some go crazy with paint and costumes. But every year since 2004, UC San Diego students, faculty, alumni and staff have turned out to compete in Junkyard Derby, a race to see which team can combine their skills, engineering know-how and showmanship into the fastest boxcar on campus.

Derby participants have 20 hours over two days to turn piles of junk and abandoned bicycles into themed boxcars that can safely deliver a single driver down a 4-foot-wide track on Peterson Hill, at the foot of Geisel Library. The only power they can rely on is gravity.

Derby organizers provide welding assistance and a box of tools, but each team is left to design and build their own car. Organizers also scour the community for junk for weeks leading up to the event, setting up a makeshift junkyard in a campus parking lot. Two nights before the event, each team may send one member into the junkyard to grab as much as they can before it’s all gone—a scramble that usually takes about 20 minutes, according to derby organizers.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of teamwork,” said John Rauch, a third year aerospace engineering student with team Skunkworks. “The design comes from the parts you get.”
Although the derby is organized by the Triton Engineering Student Council (TESC), the race is open to the entire campus community and it’s not always the engineers who win, according to organizer Sabrina Faramarzi, a fifth year student with a double major in molecular synthesis and Middle Eastern studies.

“I love how the event brings engineers and non-engineers together,” said Faramarzi. “It brings everyone out of the labs and the classrooms to socialize and put their skills to use.”

The team that makes it through the semifinals with the fastest car wins $100. Judges also award $50 to the second place team and another $50 to the most aesthetically pleasing car. This year’s most visually interesting boxcars included a train, strawberry shortcake, surfboard, and a golden tricycle with pink streamers.

“It offers students a great way to get hands on experience and have lots of fun,” said Kevin Pham, a fourth year student of human biology. Pham’s team, “Triton Transit,” which built a small mockup of the UCSD Campus Shuttle, won the Librarians Award in 2010. Library Award winners, honored for their creative and aesthetic achievement, get to keep their boxcar on display in the Geisel Library for one year.

Junkyard Derby is a race to see which team can combine their skills, engineering know-how and showmanship into the fastest boxcar on campus.

Four teams made it to the semifinals, including the UCSD Cycling Club and a team called “OMG.” In the end, an interdisciplinary team called the “Drunk Derivers,” won the top prize with a sleek, undecorated design that beat out a much larger boxcar that was affixed with a giant “Road Ahead” sign and built by team “Old Dirty Bastards.” The winning team members, a group of third year students majoring in electrical engineering and computer engineering, were boxcar driver Lorne Semrau, Chris Ward, Kyle Johnson, Nima Hashemi, Scott Tridle, and Alok Sukhwani.

Sponsors of the Junkyard Derby 2011 included the following organizations:

Campus Research Machine Shop
UCSD Transportation Services
Monster Energy
UCSD Facilities Management
Associated Students
University of California Police
Muir College Council
UCSD Bike Shop
Rudolph & Sletten
UCSD Bookstore
Thurgood Marshall Student Council
Jacobs Graduate Student Council
Birch Aquarium
Jacobs School of Engineering
Bubba’s Smokehouse BBQ
Einstein Bros. Bagels


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