Noah Machtay is a gearhead. Cars are his passion. He has built them, modified them and raced them. That’s why he was appointed faculty advisor to the Stony Brook Motorsports team.
Every year, the team competes in the Baja SAE, run by the Society of Automotive Engineers. In this intercollegiate design competition, teams of engineering students are tasked with designing, building and racing an off-road vehicle that survives the severe punishment of rough terrain.
Formerly called the Mini Baja, after the iconic Baja 1000 desert road race, the Baja SAE has two phases. In the design phase, engineers from industry — many from companies that manufacture off-road vehicles — are the judges. They inspect the design, construction and marketability of the vehicle as if it were going on the market. The active phase is composed of several off-road events, such as a speed run, a maneuverability course or a suspension and traction competition, that differ according to the location of the course. The final event is always a four-hour endurance race.
Machtay was a Motorsports team member from 2003 to 2007 while earning his master’s and PhD in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He joined the faculty shortly after graduation and was appointed Motorsports advisor soon after. “My first year as the team advisor we placed third out of about 120 schools. Before that we were never better than 30th. It was an honor to be part of such a remarkable group,” Machtay said. Since then, the team has had several impressive finishes.
After successfully participating in the Baja SAE as a student and advisor, Machtay felt he was ready for the ultimate challenge — the Baja 1000, the Super Bowl of automotive endurance events. Last November, he and some friends from his undergraduate days at Cooper Union retrofitted a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle and trucked it to Baja California in Mexico. After passing the tech inspection, they found themselves on the starting line, alongside world-renowned professional drivers in million-dollar Trophy Trucks, some with helicopters as their trail vehicles. “As soon as we were cleared to start the race,” Machtay said, “that was my victory.”
All went well for 100 miles when suddenly, on a particularly rough stretch of desert terrain, a pushrod failed, the car started bucking, and blue smoke billowed out of the engine. His race was over, but the excitement and exhilaration will be with him forever.
Machtay incorporates what he learned participating in the Baja 1000 into his teaching. “I like to teach based on reality in addition to theory, combining what the textbook says and what my experience says.”
That teaching method has proven to be very successful. “Baja SAE participants are extremely sought after,” Machtay said. “Employers think, ‘These students can hit the ground running and produce for me the first day they walk in the door.’ That makes a compelling case for a hire.” In fact, upon graduation, nearly 100 percent of Stony Brook Motorsports team members either have job offers or have secured places in prestigious graduate programs.
Machtay’s students are well prepared not only for the Baja SAE, but for the race to a successful career.
— Howard Gimple