More than just a day at the races

Floating the taco. Superman steering. Bagging the course. King and Queen of the Hill.

This weekend, those words floated over the heads of Carnegie Mellon students, Pittsburgh locals, and out-of-town alumni at the 2007 Sweepstakes competition. After a season of poor weather, Buggy participants finally had plenty of sun and warm temperatures for race days. The crowd scattered across Flagstaff Hill and the intersection of Tech and Frew Streets, now able to catch the action on all five hills on television monitors. But as the unfamiliar terms and intense team support show, Buggy is more than a Saturday morning outing. Buggy involves a committee of dedicated chairs, budgets of thousands of dollars, sponsors, dozens of pages of rules, and intense devotees. And, as its participants say, it’s a major but ultimately rewarding commitment.

Pushers, drivers, and mechanics

Erica Krivoy is considered somewhat tall to be a buggy driver, but that hasn’t stopped her from driving for Sigma Phi Epsilon. “A lot of my friends are SigEps, and they needed a driver and I agreed to it,” she explained.

Driving a buggy might not seem like something to readily agree to. Drivers must first be small enough to fit inside the torpedo-shaped vehicles. They are loaded in through the front of the buggy, and once strapped inside, they have little room to maneuver other than to use the steering mechanism. Drivers must pass a capability test that checks their ability to brake, tilt, and have at least a 90 º field of vision. They have to be willing to spend weekend mornings in winter on the outskirts of Schenley Park, either inside their buggies or waiting in tents or nearby cars. But Krivoy, a senior physics major, wasn’t daunted by the idea of sailing down hills or tight spaces. “I love roller coasters,” she said with a smile. And although SigEp didn’t place in the top six for the men’s races, she didn’t mind. In her three years of driving, “I’ve never made it past second day, so it was great.” Driving SigEp’s new buggy, Pandora, Krivoy helped take the organization to finals, where they made a time of 2:19:19.

Recruiting drivers and pushers is not always as easy as it was with Krivoy. Senior physics major and Sigma Nu Buggy hair Philip Lawson described one of the hardest parts of Buggy as “getting athletic pushers.” “You’re constantly thinking about it; you’re constantly worrying about it,” he said.

In fact, recruitment strategies vary between Greek organizations and their independent counterparts, such as Fringe, the Carnegie Involvement Association (CIA), and Student Dormitory Council (SDC). Sweepstakes chairman Michael Rem, a senior mechanical engineering major and a brother of Pi Kappa Alpha (PiKA), said that fraternities, sororities, and other Greek organizations often have established traditions of Buggy that make it easier to generate enthusiasm within a Greek organization. However, most members of those teams are limited to fraternity or sorority members. Independent organizations have a greater pool of members to choose from, but may have a harder time generating enthusiasm for Buggy.

Fringe Buggy chair Steve Huber agreed, saying, “Getting pushers to come out is probably at a bit of a disadvantage if they’re not living with you.” People who offer to join Buggy are placed on a roster that is submitted to the official Sweepstakes committee roughly one month before races, and the final teams are then chosen from that roster. Most pushers, drivers, and mechanics are recruited “through friends,” Huber said. Huber, a senior mechanical engineering major, was no exception to that strategy when he joined Fringe buggy his first year. “There were Fringe people on my floor freshman year; [they] convinced me to come out, and I liked it.”

As for race day, Huber said, “I was happier on the first day than on the second one.” On Friday Fringe, an organization that participates in intramural sports and Booth as well as Buggy, finished first in the men’s division with a time of 2:08:25. On Saturday, they came in second place in men’s and third place in women’s, shortly behind PiKA and SDC, respectively.

Safety first

A major factor for Greek and independent Buggy organizations alike is safety. It can also be a crucial factor in recruitment and participation. The Sweepstakes Committee includes a safety chair. This year that position was occupied by Jon Kaufman, a senior physics major and a member of Sigma Nu. Kaufman described his job as merely making sure that “buggies conform to the rules,” which actually take up about 100 pages. According to the official Sweepstakes rules and regulations, the safety chairman makes sure that all buggies and Buggy organization members adhere to the requirements and regulations and that the course is deemed safe for races. The safety chairman receives help on race days from the judges, according to Adam McCue, Sweepstakes’s head judge this year and a psychology major. During practices and race days W3VC, the Carnegie Tech Radio Club, also monitors the course through their Safety Net program. W3VC makes sure to post several of its members, armed with personal amateur radios, around the course to make sure that any emergencies or accidents are promptly reported.

Catherine Crawford, a Carnegie Mellon alumna (H&SS ’02) and an active member of the radio club, said that working with W3VC was a great way to become involved with Buggy “on a noncompetitive level.” She herself has been involved for nine years, and admitted that she was “addicted to Buggy.” Crawford and W3VC’s dedication was much appreciated, according to Rem, who awarded them the Spirit of Buggy Award this year. This year’s races were also notable for their lack of accidents, with only one minor crash involving SPIRIT’s buggy Seraph.

Successes and challenges of 2007

One of the major triumphs this year, according to Rem, was “almost unprecedented cooperation” between Buggy organizations. He also noted an increase in safety awareness and communication with the Sweepstakes Committee. However, Rem also said that “the majority of organizations have entered less teams than the year before,” and that there were fewer races this year. He credits some of that decrease to a difficulty for new or starting organizations to quickly acquire “everything to be competitive: mechanics, buggies, pushers, drivers. It is a huge commitment to have a competitive organization in Buggy,” he said.

PiKA took first place for the sixth year in a row, but there were notable performances by other organizations, particularly Alpha Epsilon Pi, which built a new buggy and shaved 25 seconds off their time. Rem called this accomplishment “unfathomable” and awarded them the Chairman’s Choice award, which earned the fraternity huge cheers during the awards ceremony. Fringe took both second and fifth place with their buggies Banyan (unveiled this year) and Bantam, and SDC led the women’s races with the impressive time of 2:31.

If there were any changes Rem wished to see next year, they would be increased participation and more organizations getting involved. “I think that we, and cmuTV and WRCT, were successful in increasing the raw number of people exposed to Buggy,” he said. However, he added, the more people who chose to become involved, the better.

McCue agreed, saying, “More competition would be awesome.”