Sweepstakes: rolling strong after 85 years
Carnegie Mellon alumnus Robert Ungaretti, of the class of 1970, knows a little something about Buggy. As a brother of Pi Kappa Alpha in the late ?60s, he ?worked on testing wheels and bearings.? He returned every once in a while in following years, but when his son Ryan came to Carnegie Mellon and became a brother at Kappa Delta Rho, he began returning every year for Sweepstakes.
Ungaretti is just one of the many alumni who returned this year for the 85th anniversary of Sweepstakes, a Carnegie Mellon event that seems to hold a mystical appeal for students old and new. For him, however, it?s simple.
?I?m an engineer,? he said. ?The whole idea of applying engineering principles to a fun game appealed to me.?
This simple explanation is really what lies behind the charm of Buggy: It is a blending of technical prowess, athletic skill, and school spirit. There are few other events for which Carnegie Mellon students start preparing months in advance, and the amount of preparation and skill involved in creating a successful Buggy team is not a small undertaking. Every year, students seek to outdo themselves while hundreds turn out to watch.
For the 85th anniversary of Sweepstakes, Carnegie Mellon?s teams did not disappoint. On April 15 and 16, they demonstrated that Buggy is as integral a part of the University as it was when Robert Ungaretti attended school here.
The strong performances of Buggy this year didn?t start a week ago, of course. Typically, Buggy teams begin practicing towards the end of fall semester, and then practice continually during the spring semester until Carnival. In general, the organizations practice once a week prior to spring break, and afterwards practice up to four times a week. These practices are necessary so that organizations can divide members into an A team and a B team, and so that they can assign the best pushers to the best hills. ?Push practice? is the time when pushers can hone their technique and choose which part of the Sweepstakes course suits them the best. Buggy drivers also get used to their buggies during ?rolls,? learning the steering and braking intricacies of their individual vehicles. In addition, mechanics are able to perfect the structures of their tiny buggies, and flaggers and timers also play an important role.
According to buggy driver and sophomore chemistry major Sage Bowser, many of the practices this semester were canceled or postponed due to inclement weather. However, there was little evidence of rusty or unprepared pushers or drivers at Sweepstakes.
Compared with recent years, Friday?s preliminary heats were relatively free of disqualifications or other incidents. Even the cool, clear weather was perfect for early morning competition. Fringe A and PiKA A resulted in a tie, and ultimately emerged with the lead times in women?s heats, with a time of 2:38.32. They were followed by the KDR women?s A team in second place with a time of 2:41.65, SDC A in third place with a time of 2:46.37, and SPIRIT A in fourth place with a time of 2:51.97.
The men?s heats went only slightly less smoothly. PiKA A was only one of two teams to cross the finish line in under two minutes and ten seconds, at 2:08.14. They were closely followed by Fringe A at 2:09.84, SDC A at 2:12.20, KDR A at 2:12.94, and Sigma Nu at 2:14.56. However, Sigma Nu B didn?t complete its race, as its buggy, Skua, flipped onto its side while entering the chute, skidded across the street, and crashed into a hay bale near SigNu?s alumni tent. The driver was pulled out unharmed and walked away from her crash.
In a break from previous years, the fraternity Beta Theta Pi did not participate in this year?s Sweepstakes. This year also marked the second annual performance from Kappa Kappa Gamma, who participated in both men?s and women?s heats.
Originally, women did not participate in buggy at all. There were no female push teams, and women weren?t even allowed to be drivers. According to Ungaretti, the smallest man on the team would be designated as a driver, and would lose weight, sometimes up to 30 or even 50 pounds, to ensure that he would fit inside his buggy.
Dick Line, an alumnus from the class of 1961 and a former buggy driver, recalled his days as a driver for the Men?s Dorm Council team ? predecessor to the SDC. ?There was a challenge in making a vehicle go faster,? he said, remarking on the reasons he initially decided to become involved in Buggy. This year, he came all the way from Seattle to be present with his former team members Paul Bohn (?61) and Bill Feige (?61). In 1960, Line helped his team win second place in Sweepstakes.
According to Carnegie Mellon and PiKA alumnus Tom Wood (?74), the first female drivers were used by the Carnegie Involvement Association (CIA) in the early ?70s. He also claimed that PiKA was one of the last teams to use female drivers, starting in 1981, but that they were one of the first teams to create their own female push team, in 1984. This year, over 20 women?s teams followed their example. However, only six made it to the final rounds on Saturday. Many of these teams were composed of what Wood enthusiastically referred to as ?fantastic female athletes.?
Saturday?s finals proved to be much more competitive than the previous day?s, with much more closely matched teams participating in each heat. The day started with SigEp B rerolls, then proceeded to women?s finals.
KDR A?s buggy Powder easily beat SigEp A?s buggy No. 5 with a time of 2:39.05 in the first heat, winning most of its lead on hills 4 and 5. PiKA A?s race was unusual in that they were racing their own B team. PiKA A crossed the finish line roughly 12 seconds before PiKA B, but were later disqualified when they failed to pass the drop test at the end of their race. According to WRCT commentary, PiKA A?s buggy Blizzard?s brakes squealed, and the buggy veered slightly and failed to stop at the required line.
The third and final women?s heat pitted Fringe A?s buggy Brazen against SPIRIT A?s buggy Shaka Zulu. These two teams were neck-and-neck until Fringe pulled away during their free roll and claimed a victory with a time of 2:37:91. PiKA A took the position of ?Queen of the Hill,? as they had the fastest time ascending the course?s first two hills. However, Fringe A emerged as the race?s overall victor, followed by KDR A in second place and SPIRIT A in third place.
The first heat for the men?s final races featured KDR B?s buggy Pirho and SigNu A?s buggy King of Spades. The two buggies remained close together for much of the course, and bumped each other during free rolls. King of Spades then passed Pirho and emerged ahead from the chute, winning the heat with a time of 2:14.91. After reviews for a possible pushbar violation and of the collision, the Sweepstakes committee decided to give Sig Nu a reroll at the end of the races. In the reroll, Sig Nu shaved about a second off their time.
KDR A raced against CIA A in the next heat, and finished the race ahead by almost ten seconds. SDC A beat SPIRIT A with their buggy Psychosis in the third heat with a time of 2:10.88, landing them among the top three positions. In the fourth heat, Fringe A?s bright blue buggy Blizzard cleanly rolled to a time of 2:10.17, beating out PiKA B and narrowly beating SDC A?s time by less than half a second.
In the final heat, the PiKA A team beat Fringe B and crossed the finish line with the shortest time, arriving in at 2:07.87. They also earned the title of ?King of the Hill,? ascending the first hills with a time of about 15 seconds. A fierce performance on the part of their Hill 5 pusher allowed them to become this year?s winner in the men?s races. This marks their fourth consecutive victory. They were followed by the Fringe A team in second place, SDC A in third place, KDR A in fourth place, and SigNu A in fifth place, even after their reroll. Fringe B finished in sixth place.
As Alpha Phi Omega placed the official times on the board, PiKA brothers flooded the road in front of Skibo Gymnasium and cheered from the top of their signature fire truck. To the alumni, it was no real surprise. Dick Line and Paul Bohn said that PiKA was a Buggy ?powerhouse? during the 1960s at Carnegie Mellon. In 1960, the Men?s Dormitory Council, known as the GDIs, or ?God D?n Independents,? were able to take second place. Bohn, Line, and Feige recalled how PiKA brothers sent them a telegram via Western Union congratulating them, despite the fact that they lived across campus. And, as Ungaretti said, ?You?re in PiKA, you do buggy.?
During the awards ceremony, students, faculty and alumni crammed into the main tent on Midway to see the Buggy awards ceremony. In addition to the race awards, the Sweepstakes Committee offered a T-Shirt Award, a Spirit in Buggy Award, a Chairman?s Choice Award, and Design Competition Awards. CIA took home the T-Shirt Award; Pioneers was awarded the Spirit of Buggy Award for ?showing what Buggy was really about,? according to Sweepstakes chair Sara Player; and KDR took home the Chairman?s Choice Award in addition to their second-place trophy in women?s and fourth-place award in men?s. For the design competition, buggies were judged not only on their looks but on their engineering. SPIRIT?s buggy Seraph took third place for the design competition, Fringe?s Blackjack took second, and Fringe?s Blizzard won first place. Fringe?s Blizzard also took home the People?s Choice Award.
Overall, the atmosphere inside the tent was festive, with buggy teams hoisting their drivers onto their shoulders to receive the trophies. PiKA, KDR, and Fringe crowded toward the stage, standing on chairs and cheering. At one point, when PiKA began to tease the Fringe A women?s team, a group of students behind them began to chant ?Drop test!? repeatedly. KDR and PiKA carried their trophies home in processions, wearing their team?s trademark T-shirts.
Dick Line seemed to hit the nail on the head when he said, ?It?s the competition of it all.? What started out as a popular diversion for Carnegie Tech students has evolved over the years to become one of the school?s most prominent events. It seems to inspire in students a feeling of school pride, a sense of team solidarity, and a hunger for victory. As this year demonstrated, the possibility of victory is up for grabs for those who try the hardest. It?s a sport that uniquely fits Carnegie Mellon and the students who excel at it.