The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Getting Marquette’s Baja team back on the racetrack


A snowy Saturday often means sleeping in, extra studying or hanging out inside for most students. But one group does not let the snow stop them from having fun outside. Eagle Racing, Marquette’s Society of Automotive Engineers Baja team.

In fact, team members embrace it as they whiz up and down the rows of parked cars and swerve in and out of orange cones at outside their race shop in South Milwaukee at 30 miles per hour. 

“Exhilarating,” team vice president and College of Engineering senior Sebastian Partyka said after taking his turn behind the wheel of the race car called “Eagle 3.”

Partyka said AE has chapters at universities all over the world, including in India, Japan, Canada and Mexico. Teams from those universities gather to race, and in the Baja series, that means off-road racing through mud, sand and even snow with obstacles to contend with logs, boulders and dirt mounds.

“The really cool thing about Baja, as opposed to other SAE events such as Formula or Electric, is that Baja is the only racing series in SAE for collegiate racing that actually is bumper to bumper racing against each other,” Partyka said. “The others are time trials.”

The cars are entirely student-built and maintained. Eagle Racing is building their new four-wheel-drive car, Eagle 4, in Engineering Hall, while Eagle 3 is being serviced by the students on Saturday mornings in their race shop 15 minutes off campus.

“You basically build a car from scratch, the only thing that’s stock is the engine, everything else is student fabricated,” Partyka said. “I kind of live for Saturdays at this point.”

But not all Saturdays are to live for. COVID-19 put a complete halt on SAE Baja racing operations around the world, including an over two-year hiatus for Marquette’s team. 

“I started this year, and I didn’t know much more about the team than freshman year,” Jack Killian, team president and senior in the College of Engineering, said.

Killian said there was a loss of knowledge and progress for the team as members graduated over the next couple of years. This meant younger members were unable to gain any experience as COVID-19 restrictions prevented racing and working on cars.

Still, Killian persevered. He was able to assemble a full team and secure funding for the 2023 season for the first time since 2020.

The target of their return was Jan. 28 at Blizzard Baja, Michigan Tech’s event in Houghton, Michigan, nearly a six hour drive from Milwaukee.

“This year we’ve been able to get everything back on track,” Ben Boxall, a sophomore College of Engineering student and legacy car manager, said.

Not without some difficulties.

Despite spending the entire last year working to get the car up to speed, Eagle Racing appeared it would not be ready to compete once the week of the race arrived.

“Right before winter Baja, the car, it still hadn’t ever run. We had a gear that was all busted up and we were really trying to get it to go,” Killian said. “A small group of us banded together and got the thing to work.”

So they made the trek to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and placed fifth in the slalom race, a single-car event. Then came time for the 43-car main event, a four hour endurance race.

Throttle issues. The car would not run.

It took the team half an hour to get the car running properly, putting them laps behind the rest of the field. Still, they methodically passed competitors one by one and 3.5 hours later, they placed 22nd overall.

“That was awesome,” Boxall said. “I didn’t expect the car to do as well as it did.”

Eagle Racing now sets its sights on the backwoods racing event at Oshkosh, Wisconsin May 4.

There, Eagle 4 will make its debut as SAE has changed the Baja series guidelines and schedule to mostly four-wheel-drive events. As a result, Eagle 3, the two-wheel-drive car, will not see the race track as often.

COVID left the team with little experience and an inoperable car. Now they plan to leave future members with two cars and the experience they need to capture those elusive trophies. 

This story was written by Timothy Littau. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @LittauTimothy.

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