These Columbia Undergrads Spend Friday Nights Financing And Building A Race Car From Scratch

Most college kids are probably spending their weekends studying like crazy or partying into the night.

But for around 40 Columbia University students, a typical Friday night consists of welding metals and writing budget reports in the basement of an engineering building.

The Knickerbocker Motorsports team is hard at work building a race car that will go from 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds over the course of one year.

Team members split the work between engineering and managing the car’s budget. This year the whole project will cost an estimated $US30,000. The financing primarily comes from donations from sponsors and the university itself.

The project starts in September and goes all the way through finals week at the end of the spring semester. In May, the team enters the Formula SAE collegiate racing competition.

Five team members are taking a related 1-to-3 credit course to have more time to work on the car. But for the rest of the team, this is purely an extracurricular activity with no financial payoff and no class credit. They do it because they it’s fun.

The team has improved in terms of both engineering skill and budget management over the last few years. It’s also grown in numbers. Back in 2012 there were only 17 members on the squad.

Welcome to the underground world of collegiate race car building...

There's a reason why these students are building a race car.

Every year the team enters the international Formula SAE collegiate racing competition.

The competition takes place in May -- at the same time as Columbia University's final exams.

So team members end up taking finals early in order to go live out their dreams of racing.

Just imagine putting on one of these for an international racing competition.

The team is divided into two groups: the engineers and the finance team.

The engineers work on building and designing the car from scratch.

While the finance team works on the budget reports and acquiring sponsorships.

As you can imagine, it's not cheap to build a race car from scratch.

'I had no prior experience with engineering and no prior interest in cars; I just decided to show up after seeing a few of the cheeky, in your face flyers,' Lana Wang, the VP of Logistics, told Business Insider.

Because the Columbia curriculum is extremely rigorous, the only time these students have to work on the car is at night.

'We basically work round the clock,' Matthew Sheridan, the team's president, said.

During building sessions, senior team members teach newer members how to do the engineering work.

It gets really intense on some days.

Here's a CNC milling a part for the fuel tank.

And it definitely gets tiring working all night long.

Especially when there's plenty of homework to do.

But there aren't many people who can say that they built something like this.

'It's crazy. You throw a bunch of full time Columbia students together and they churn out a car that goes 0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds,' said Wang.

It takes the whole year to build the car.

So the team also has a simulator in order to virtually practice racing during the year.

'They don't teach you this kind of stuff in class. It's all learned on the job: make sure you criss-cross unidirectional carbon layers during a layup, don't use metric wrenches on standard hex bolts...' said Wang.

And now... let's check out what competition looks like.

Here's what last year's team built.

The moment you've been waiting for... a video of the car during the endurance test.

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These students give up studying for finals and their weekend nights for this one competition.

But as hard as it gets, the team always remembers to goof off.

'Even though we come from different academic levels, social circles, and disciplines we become bonded through our common goal of building a racecar from start to finish,' Wang told BI.

Ready, set...

And now, take a look at some less successful engineers...

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