Prof. Jay Kinsinger and student working on a Nash Rambler frame

Grassroots Wreck Tests Engineering Skill on a Budget

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by Heidie Raine, Student Public Relations Writer

Prof. Jay Kinsinger and student standing inside the body of a Nash Rambler

With a lifetime of car restoration and mechanics under his belt, one Cedarville University professor is taking on the ultimate challenge: building a competitive and diversely functional race car for under $2,000.

Jay Kinsinger, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, is advising a team of senior mechanical engineering students that is constructing this vehicle as their capstone project.

The car will compete in Grassroots Motorsports $2,000 challenge race, which occurs each October in Gainesville, Florida. Per race guidelines, it will be judged in three categories: autocross, drag racing, and a Concours competition.

“The three components of the competition make our task pretty challenging,” Kinsinger shared. “It has to be fast in a straight line, fast at cornering and aesthetically pleasing — and all within that small budget.”

Cedarville’s mechanical engineering department has a history of racing-focused capstone projects, but this is its first year working with Grassroots Motorsports.

“When I became the adviser for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) at Cedarville, I took on advising the team racing for the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) car challenge,” Kinsinger noted. “For 10 years, we’d build cars to race against teams from all over the world with upward of 120 cars at each venue, but it wasn’t a great fit for us. You had to build a new car every year, there were over 200 pages of rules and we were competing against teams with bottomless budgets.”

While Cedarville performed well at Formula racing events, placing 30th at its best race, the financial demand of the project led Kinsinger to take a step back from the racing scene. It wasn’t until 2020, when he came across the $2,000 challenge, that he jumped back in. 

“Georgia Tech started racing with Grassroots right around the time I started looking again, and the organization caught my eye,” Kinsinger said. “With a budget, only two-three pages of rules, and the ability to reuse cars from previous years, the challenge became more realistic.”

Once onboard with the competition, Kinsinger and his student team had to begin looking for affordable, high-performance parts.

“We wanted something really small with a good strength-to-weight ratio, and we needed to be able to put a pretty powerful engine in it. We were thinking of small economy cars, like MG midgets and BMW coupes.”

The team eventually settled on the shell of a 1957 Nash Metropolitan, which Kinsinger had painted and filled for his son’s high school production of “Grease” earlier in the year. Since the show was over, the car was given to them for free. They picked up a $300 engine from a 1994 Honda del Sol.

“Those little four-cylinder engines are very cheap and ubiquitous, and there are a lot of inexpensive performance upgrades from the early 90s we can throw on too,” Kinsinger added.

During fall semester 2020, the team designed the car’s chassis from scratch, paying special attention to the suspension system. They’ve also relocated the engine and transmission from the front-wheel-drive del Sol to the back of the Nash so it can operate as a mid-engine vehicle.

Many of the seniors stayed near campus for the 2020-21 winter break to continue work on the car beyond the academic calendar.

As he looks forward to the project, Kinsinger is excited to be back in the racing scene with his students.

“This is excellent industry experience they’re gaining, and there isn’t an answer in the back of the book for a project like this,” he noted. “They’re drawing on all the resources they’ve gained over the last four years and looking for the most elegant solution among a variety of imperfect options, and they’re doing some really exceptional work.”

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,550 undergraduate, graduate, and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, such as the Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering program, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and high student engagement ranking. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.