What can I do?
It’s up to you and whichever team you’re on to figure out what part of buggy you are most interested in, but there are generally four types of roles that make up each team. Of course, many people play more than one of these roles.
Mechanics build, maintain, and manage their team’s buggies year-round. For each buggy that you see roll down the hill, there is a team of mechanics who built that buggy, prepared the wheels and bearings for the weekend, carried the buggy out to the course, and loaded the driver. Mechanics learn how to build racing vehicles with the most advanced carbon composite techniques and squeeze every second of performance from their vehicles before raceday.
Mechanics are necessary during freerolls and raceday, but also through the rest of the week and between the fall and spring seasons. Some teams build a new buggy approximately annually while others have a longer development cycle. Either way, mechanics put in energy year-round to keep their team at the leading edge of buggy technology.
Many mechanics are engineers, but hailing from CIT is by no means a requirement. Anyone with an interest in racing, building and fixing things, and running a team would be a big help on any team.
Pushers contribute the athletic force behind each buggy on the course. Buggies have no motors, so without the pushers nobody would ever get past the start line. It takes a team of 5 pushers to get each buggy around the course in a relay with each hill having a different profile and requiring a different ideal athlete. Pushing a team to victory is not only about strength and speed, but also technique. Buggy is an unusual sport with skills that don’t necessarily translate from anything you did in high school. It’s also a relay race so experience with your team mates is critical when raceday comes around.
Pushers are essential during each weekend of rolls because they get the buggy around the course, but many teams also organize workouts year-round to build strength and speed as well as camaraderie on the team.
The winning teams showcase some of the most talented male and female athletes on campus each April, but it’s actually a great way to get involved no matter how fast or slow you can cover 100 yards. Most organizations enter more than one men’s and women’s team ranging from their most competitive to the just-for-fun entry. Setting goals to make A or B team can be motivating while you work out through the winter, but there’s room for everyone to participate in April.
Drivers are the only members of the team that cover the full length of the course with the buggy. They squeeze inside their buggy and are in full control as they get pushed up the hills and then cruise back down, steering around each curve. New drivers start at a fraction of the buggy’s full speed until they get comfortable with the controls and learn the best line to take around the course. Once they learn their way around the course, drivers take the chute turn at around 35mph while riding just inches off the ground. There’s not much dispute that drivers have the most thrilling role in buggy.
Unlike the other roles, not everyone can be a driver. Most buggies are very small so that they can be as light and fast as possible so only the smallest people on campus are able to fit inside. There is no specific cutoff for height, but most drivers are under 5’4″ and many are close to 5′. If you are interested in driving for a team, you’ll likely try on the safety equipment and see if you fit comfortably in the team’s buggies. The safety chair is a neutral member of the Sweepstakes committee that can answer any question you might have about driving.
In addition to building, pushing, and driving there are a number of jobs that need to be done to keep buggy teams on the course and competitive. Some teams make these jobs into additional roles while others rotate whoever is available into these jobs.
Drivers are so low to the ground that they need signal flags to help them navigate a couple of the key turns on the course. Flaggers are the brave souls who endure Pittsburgh weather to provide this guidance by holding flags as landmarks. The Transition flag is generally somewhere near the cross walk to Phipps Conservatory, while the Chute flag is just before the Chute turn. They are also responsible for signaling to drivers that they should stop in the event of a crash or other incident ahead of them on the course. This helps prevent further incidents that might arise, adding a measure of safety for all involved.
Flaggers (generally) hold the flag high enough for drivers 3″ off of the ground to be able to see it as they come over the rise of the middle of the road, lower it as the buggy gets closer, then quickly raise the flag so that they don’t hit the pushbar.
They are sometimes paid in bagels or other breakfast food, as well as getting a prime spot from which to watch the freeroll.
A Follow Car (or sometimes, especially on Raceday, a Follow Truck) is the vehicle that follows buggies around the course. During freerolls each organization operates their own follow car and it travels around the course behind that organization’s last buggy. On Raceday, the Follow Truck is operated by Sweepstakes and follows the last buggy in each heat.
In both instances, the purpose of a follow car is to ensure that in the case of an incident, members of the affected organization can respond quickly and ensure the driver’s safety.
Buggy is a sport that comes down to fractions of a second so having good data during the year is essential. Timers record the downhill and pusher times during practice to help their team make good decisions and optimize their raceday performance.
Each team has the responsibility to do a few chores each week to make buggy happen. Teams sweep debris off the course, guard blockades that keep cars off the course while buggies are rolling, and carry hay bales that protect drivers during crashes in the chute.