University of Calgary team looks to defend championship title

South Park, TRONboggan, Sesame Street and The Magic School Bus are just some of this year’s team names for the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race — an annual competition for engineering students.

The event takes place Feb. 11 where 19 post-secondary institutions from across Canada will gather at Canada Olympic Park. Over 400 engineering students will be attending the annual race.

The University of Calgary team is both defending champion and host of the event. They’ve named themselves Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Bogg and the team intends to compete in full Elvis costumes. This event is as fun as it is serious.

The serious part comes in designing a 135-kilogram all-concrete toboggan — complete with full engineering specs and mathematical formulas.

“I think it’s really special,” said Tim Herrler, project manager of the Calgary team. “We’ve all worked so hard in creating this toboggan.”The University of Calgary has named their team Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Bogg and plan to wear Elvis costumes as they glide down the hill in their concrete toboggan. Race day is Feb. 11.
Photo courtesy of: Jaclyn Hockley

Herrler, 24, added that the team has been preparing for the race for over four months.

Teams are not only judged based on technical aspects, but must pass safety inspections and show a great amount of team spirit as well. Some of the awards include best concrete toboggan, best steering design, best technical display, top speed and best costumes.

“The event gives students a great opportunity to put technical values and creativity altogether,” said Shelley Lissel, the team’s faculty advisor.

Lissel competed in the race as a student in the past and said it’s just as competitive as it is fun. A hosting team has never won the competition, but she said this year’s U of C team has a lot of support along with a little bit of pressure motivating them.

“We really try to have a good community,” Herrler said. “There’s a bit of a rivalry and we are competitive, but you still want to see everyone do well. We learn each other’s chants and we sing each other’s songs.”

Olivia Norton, event spokesperson, said the race originated for students to apply engineering theory in a real world situation.

She said through the years, the event has grown into a great way to make new friends who aspire to be engineers while meeting current industry leaders and possible employers in the field.

First-time participants and team members Phil Haeckel, 22, and Kayla Johnson, 24, both said they are excited to ride in their pink Cadillac toboggan singing along to some of Elvis’ greatest hits. The two civil engineering students also said they are eager to impress the home crowd.

“I’ve found in the last little while, it’s all coming together and it’s rewarding to see what we’ve designed from scratch become something that works,” Johnson said. “We design a lot in engineering, but never get to build.”

Setting the logistics aside, Johnson said the design process was the most difficult.

“Every time the steering plans changed, we had to change the superstructure.”

Herrler also said the design was a challenge. He added that the toboggan has to be big enough for five people to ride in at once, light enough to gain momentum and sturdy enough to withstand an 80-km/h crash.

Haeckel said that it took a lot of work to build from ground up, but that being part of this club makes university worth it.

Herrler, along with his team, have put in hours equivalent to an extra course and have improved their toboggan design since last year in hopes of winning again.

“We’ve improved the steering system, increased the amount of recyclable material in the concrete mix and used gas bubbles to make the concrete lighter,” he said.

The race can be dangerous, but the Elvis impersonators will be sporting motorcycle helmets and chest protectors.

Herrler said he is confident in his team and in his toboggan.

“Engineering is all about controlling hazard and managing risk. We’re all working toward one goal and it can be a challenge, but I’ve got a really good team.”

The general public is welcome on the technical exhibition day on Feb. 10 and race day on Feb. 11. For more information visit gnctr2012.com

rsecara@cjournal.ca