PiKA speeds to the finish line

Pittsburgh’s gray skies parted for Sweepstakes 2008, known as the biggest day of the year to members of the 12 organizations who participate each year in the competition, also known as Buggy. Participants, and the faculty, staff, families, alumni, community members, and fellow classmates who came out to watch them, enjoyed two mornings of near-perfect Buggy weather. It’s these two days, Buggy devotees say, that make getting out of bed in the early-morning hours every weekend and pulling all-nighters perfecting various aspects of their buggies all worth it.

Participating organizations included fraternities Pi Kappa Alpha (PiKA), Kappa Delta Rho (KDR), Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep), Phi Kappa Theta (Phi Kap), Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), and Sigma Nu (SigNu), along with independent organizations Student Dormitory Council (SDC), Fringe, Spirit, Pioneers, and Carnegie Involvement Association (CIA).

PiKA’s Men’s A team won the men’s division on Saturday, setting a new men’s course record of 2:04.35 with their newest buggy, Chimera, beating SDC’s Men’s A team’s record of 2:05.55 set the day before. In the final races, SDC’s Men’s A followed right on PiKA’s heels, coming in second at 2:04.50 with Psychosis. Fringe Men’s A team came in third at 2:08.54 with Banyan.

SDC’s Women’s A team won the women’s division and set a new women’s course record, coming in at 2:28.84 with Psychosis. PiKA’s Women’s A team came in second with 2:36.60 on Chimera, and Fringe’s Women’s A team came in third with 2:37.25 on Bantam.

“This is the best race I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen anything else like it and I don’t think I ever will,” Shane McGuire, a senior mechanical engineering major and PiKA’s chairman, screamed above the cheering of his team as two members doused the rest of the group with champagne.

SDC chairman Jeremy Tuttle, a sophomore computational finance major, was more reflective.

“We didn’t get the fastest time, but there’s no way you could call this a failure,” he said.

Tuttle said the best part of buggy is not the times, but the atmosphere and camaraderie of the sport.

“I love it. There are great people, and it’s so unique — there’s nothing else like it in the world,” he said.

Buggy is extremely competitive; however, many participants claim that its intense competition is what makes it so much fun.

“I love the competition,” said Nat Gist, assistant Sweepstakes chair and a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering. “The men’s heats are extremely close this year.”

Buggy Chairman and senior business administration major Mizel Djukic was pleased with the overall coordination of this year’s Sweepstakes.

“The teams have put in a lot of hard work. They’ve had nearly perfect races,” he said during Saturday’s events. “We’re looking at competitive teams with fast times.”

The teams compete as much against each other as they do against their own group’s personal bests.

“We set records for three of our teams, and three of our men’s teams qualified for the second day,” said Lindsey Bernier, a senior materials science and engineering major and head driver for Fringe. “Fringe is competitive, and we get rewarded for the work we do.”

Drivers are recruited based on their height and weight — the smaller the better. As soon as first-year orientation begins, teams start to actively court the smallest female members of the new class.

“They recruited me my freshman year, and when I got involved, it was fun,” Bernier said. “You get to feel good for being short.”

But the teams themselves are far from the only participants in Buggy. Buggy is made possible by a large support staff that manages the logistical aspects of the races, such as timing and communication between different areas of the course.

Paul Fowler, associate dean of student affairs and director of the career center, has been timing the races for the past 12 years. He was this year’s head timer and one of six timers for the races, most of which were employees from the office of student development, the career center, and other administrative units.

“[Buggy is] the highlight of Carnival for me,” Fowler said. “Timers get a nice birds-eye view of the race.”

During Friday’s races, when three buggies compete in each heat, two timers time each buggy. Those two scores are averaged and recorded. On Saturday, when there are only two buggies per heat, there are three timers per buggy. The human timers are the backup system to the official time, which is calculated using a chip on the nose of each buggy.

“Our sole focus is on the nose of the buggy,” Fowler said. “We want to give [the teams] good times.”

Fowler said that the timers’ recorded times were usually within a tenth of a second of the official time.

Carnegie Mellon’s radio club is responsible for communication throughout the races. The radio club stations members throughout the course and at various other points, such as the timers’ booth, so they can hear the starting gun and be up-to-speed about each buggy’s progress throughout the race.

In the timers’ booth, first-year electrical and computer engineering major Mike Sibley was responsible for notifying the timers when the start gun had gone off so they could begin timing.

“We do communication to make sure the course is clear and to notify the chairman and the police if something goes wrong,” Sibley said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

WRCT is responsible for broadcasting the races. Three WRCT members particularly well-versed in the ins and outs of Buggy serve as sportscasters, providing commentary throughout the races; a fourth provides commentary from a post in the lead truck. After the races, WRCT and cmuTV, who films the races, collaborate to match up WRCT’s audio recording with cmuTV’s video footage, according to Tina Milo, a senior electrical and computer engineering major and production director for WRCT.

And lastly, there are the Buggy participants of years past who come back to Carnival each year to witness the latest additions to Buggy history. Greg Battaglia, who graduated in 2005 with a master’s in management of information systems, recalled the days when he filmed the races as part of cmuTV, waking up at 4 a.m. and missing out on most Carnival events to work the camera.

“Buggy can’t be described to anyone who doesn’t go to CMU,” he said. “It’s very cool to see CMU students with so much passion and energy.”