Unlikely champions

It was simply unprecedented. Two full days of gorgeous spring weather for Carnegie Mellon?s annual Sweepstakes event offered a chance seldom realized during Spring Carnival, a full gamut of buggy races ? a luxury which had eluded the university for more than a decade. Problems unfolded in unexpected places while teams accustomed to strong performances shifted in and out of the top seats.

Women?s buggy finals were not even close this year. PiKA?s A team set a new course record for the women?s division with a time of 2:29.83. The next team, Beta A, was exactly ten seconds behind, according to the Alpha Phi Omega Leader Board and official results posted on the Sweepstakes website.

In the first finals heat, Fringe A, the defending women?s champion, and SDC A started out with Hill 1 times of about 23 seconds. SDC had a small lead at the end of the hill, but was overtaken shortly before free roll. With a clean shot down the Chute, Fringe extended its lead to about four seconds in front of Porter Hall. While SDC caught up slightly on the transitions, pulling to within two seconds, Fringe?s back end finished strong with a time of 2:41.38. SDC finished a little over six seconds later.

The second heat pitted Beta A against SigNu A. The team to watch in this heat was Beta. Though they had the fastest time last year, Beta was denied victory due to failure on the drop test, which measures the braking capability of the buggies directly after the race. Beta was also the favorite of Compubookie, the traditional anonymous predictor of race day results.

Both SigNu and Beta pulled to the starting line about thirty seconds before the race was to begin. The teams were neck-and-neck after Hill 1, with Beta pulling out a small lead into the Chute. On the stretch just before free roll down Schenley, SigNu had what looked like it could be a late handoff, but nothing was called. Beta opened up a lead of about two seconds at the stop sign a little past the second turn on Schenley, but SigNu caught up by the time they reached Hill 4.

Beta and SigNu traded the lead back and forth along Hill 4. However, Beta?s excellent transition into Hill 5 and a strong finishing pusher left them with a lead of a little under six seconds over SigNu. As the crowd watched, Beta passed their drop test this year, putting them into the lead by a little more than a second and a half.

PiKA and SPIRIT?s heat rounded out the day. The first start was marred by a malfunctioning starter pistol, which caused both teams to false start. After the problem was cleared up, SPIRIT and PiKA were ready to roll. PiKA A came out strong from the start with a Hill 1 time of 22.09 seconds, which was also good enough for Queen of the Hill honors. The Queen of the Hill is awarded to the women?s team with the fastest Hill 1 time over the course of Sweepstakes. They did not have an excellent push off to the chutes, but it did not matter as they stayed on track with a straight line in, and a smooth turn into Hill 4.

PiKA continued up the hill strong, and maintained their lead through the finish line. SPIRIT turned in a good time as well, but were overshadowed by PiKA?s dominance. The only thing left for PiKA was the drop test, which they passed. The women?s finals did not have any disqualifications immediately following the race, though both Fringe?s and SPIRIT?s A teams were disqualified after review of the race tapes. Fringe interfered with an SDC pusher on the back hills and SPIRIT?s buggy lost some mass during the race. The times this year were also much faster than last year, perhaps due to the more favorable weather.

Another record was set this year, though it was not at the finals heat. Kappa Kappa Gamma was the first all-women organization to enter a team (actually both a men?s and women?s team) for Sweepstakes. All the mechanics, timers, flaggers, and of course the driver were women. With this, they completed Sweepstakes? transition to a more gender-balanced group of organizations. The competition began as an all-male event, became coed in the 1960s and was split into women?s and men?s relays in the 1970s.

For the men?s races, preliminary heats started early on Friday. One of the most noteworthy facets of this year?s preliminaries, besides the fantastic weather, was the slew of disqualifications and unfinished races. Kappa Delta Rho?s A team was disqualified in heat seven for a five-second violation; they failed to clear parts of their team from a five-foot area around their buggy five seconds before the heat began. If not for the violation, KDR A would have had the seventh-highest preliminary course time and been guaranteed to make it to the finals.

Sigma Nu A clocked in with an impressive 2:13.69, which would have landed them second place in preliminaries (behind Fringe A?s remarkable 2:09.30), but was disqualified for a pushbar violation when their Hill 5 pusher was unable to keep a grip on their buggy as it crossed the finish line. Fringe C also lost a spot in the top ten due to a pushbar violation, while Student Dormitory Council D was disqualified for loss of mass when the cover over the rear wheel popped off their new buggy, Strife.

Several teams ended up not even finishing the race. SDC A?s buggy Psychosis lost a wheel on the freeroll and spun out. PiKA A?s buggy also spun out, hitting the hay bales near the chute. SPIRIT B?s buggy hit the hay as well after swerving to avoid PiKA, but was granted a reroll.

As day two of races rolled around, many had already begun to think that this year would be a big one for buggy. Only six of the ten teams in the finals had been in the top ten last year: CIA?s A team was nowhere to be found, while three of the top A teams (PiKA, SigNu, and SDC) from the previous year had already been disqualified. Sigma Phi Epsilon, who did not even compete last year, had placed sixth in preliminaries with their A team.

The crowds slowly gathered as the morning wore on; the first heat of men?s finals started around ten in the morning. First up was Beta Theta Pi?s A team racing against SPIRIT C; Beta won the match by approximately an eight-second margin, coming in at 2:15.8. In the second heat PiKA B took on SDC B. SDC?s Hill 2 pusher let their buggy go a little soon into freefall, and while PiKA lost some speed in the chute, they gained it back as the buggies went into Hill 4. PiKA won with a great time of 2:11.7.

SPIRIT A matched up with PiKA C in the third heat, wrapping the race up with a very respectable 2:13.4 against PiKA?s 2:19.1 ? PiKA C was later disqualified for a five-second violation. Fringe B?s race in the fourth heat against Pioneers A elicited several gasps from the audience as the two buggies nearly collided twice ? once as they entered freeroll after Hill 2 and again as they rounded the second curve on Schenley Drive. While the two teams were very close for most of the race, Fringe pulled ahead in the final stretch and achieved a final time of 2:14.9.

In the fifth and final heat, Fringe A squared off against SigEp A. The race was close, but the final blow occurred in the final seconds as Fringe?s buggy crossed the finish line with its pusher trailing more than a foot behind. Fringe was disqualified and lost what would have been the winning time: 2:09.0. SigEp completed the course at 2:13.7, only about a quarter second behind SPIRIT A, and garnered third place.

?We?re pretty pleased with it,? said SigEp push captain Nic Welty, a senior economics major. Even though SigEp was unable to compete last year, the team came back strong after building four buggies in four years.

?It all came together out there,? said SigEp buggy co-chair Matt Van Winkle, a junior physics major. With 35 of the fraternity?s 54 brothers heavily involved in buggy and plans for aggressive recruiting of women?s pushers, the team has great potential for improvement over the next few years. At the awards ceremony on Saturday afternoon, Van Winkle addressed the audience, telling them, ?Nobody believed us ? neither did we.?

However, PiKA?s teams really stole the show. Dealing with the disappointment of A team?s disqualification was tough. ?We did what we could to keep morale up, and by Saturday morning, everyone was ready to go out and bring it home,? said PiKA?s buggy co-chair Bob Douglass. Due to Fringe A?s disqualification, PiKA B managed to secure the first place position, continuing their two-year winning streak.

The Buggy T-Shirt Competition winner, announced at Saturday afternoon?s awards ceremony, was Phi Kappa Theta with a reference to their spotty history of finishing races. CIA won 2004?s ?Spirit of Buggy? award, which, according to assistant Sweepstakes chairman Carla Geisser, is for ?embody[ing] the spirit of the activity,? while newcomers Kappa Kappa Gamma received Chairman?s Choice, being the first sorority to enter full men?s and women?s teams into Sweepstakes. First place, as well as People?s Choice, in the design competition went to Fringe?s new buggy Blackjack, followed by Sigma Nu?s new buggy Skua in second and SPIRIT?s Seraph in third.