In Norman, the University of Oklahoma has forged a football tradition steeped in history, filled with more than a century's worth of colorful characters, unforgettable moments and unparalleled success.
Across campus at the OU College of Engineering, the fan base pales in comparison. Saturday crowds are practically nonexistent and the roster of talent contains nary a single household name.
Still, the Sooner racing team has managed to build a fairly respectable name for itself in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) over the last few years. In fact, the 19-member crew " all mechanical engineering majors " recently finished off the most successful racing season in the program's 15-year history.
OU closed the 2009 season with consecutive top-5 finishes, including a fifth-place finish at the Formula-SAE West competition in Fontana, Calif. That field included 80 teams representing 10 countries and 24 states.
And yes, Oklahoma beat Texas.
"It was a great year," said David Collins, team president and junior-to-be. "We did well basically everywhere we went with this car, including a second-place finish at Virginia. This season's results definitely put us among the top teams in the Formula-SAE competition."
STUDENT-BASED ENGINEERING TEAMS
An international competition devised of student-based engineering teams that design, build and drive small-scale Formula One and Indy-style race cars, Formula-SAE has grown to more than 400 teams in 30 different countries over the past decade.
OU launched its racing team back in 1994 to help promote "creativity, management, budgeting, goal-setting, testing and promote competition," according to its Web site.
The Sooner crew took a major step forward last season with its first-ever top-5 finish. The momentum of that performance undoubtedly carried over to 2009 and the redesigned car that promoted both fuel economy and higher safety standards.
"The primary focus of the team is engineering design. We come up with a new design every year, and the car we put out there this year was much different than last year's design," Collins said.
The '09 model tipped the scales at just under 400 pounds, almost 100 pounds lighter than last year's model. And in order to be even more fuel-efficient, the new design included a 550-cc, two-cylinder (55-horsepower) engine " compared to the 600-cc, 4-cylinder utilized in 2008.
"We sacrificed some power for better fuel efficiency, but it was well worth it in the long run," he said.
Collins described the basic objective of the project as "designing a car for the weekend autocross racer." Autocross racing is a type of motor-sport event emphasizing safety and low-budget competition on a challenging course marked by traffic cones.
"We've got a great relationship with the Lloyd Noble Center, where we do all of our practicing," he said. "We've been fortunate to receive the support we have from the university." "Jay C. Upchurch