Off Beat: OSU engineering team on top of the world, by way of Washougal

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When an Oregon State University team won a world championship, the road went through Washougal.

OSU had a bumpy path to the title, and that’s not just a figure of speech. That road included the Washougal motocross park.

The East County track was one of the sites in 2009 when the nation’s top collegiate engineering students competed in a Baja-style off-road racing series.

The win last May at Washougal helped Oregon State beat more than 100 other off-road teams for the national title.

And since the field included universities from other countries, the OSU College of Engineering was claiming a world championship in a news release last week.

“OSU happens to be about the best team in the world,” confirmed Oregon State professor Robert Paasch.

The Washougal facility is a high-profile site for high-flying motocross riders. The action draws huge crowds and national television each year when the national circuit comes to Clark County.

But the track’s role in developing America’s best young engineering students has gone under the radar. Every three years, the Oregon Society of Automotive Engineers hosts one of the races, and the Washougal motocross park is the home track.

“They use part of the motocross track and set up an off-road track, as well,” said Paasch, team adviser and professor of mechanical engineering. The next college event at Washougal is slated for 2012.

Power of teamwork

The course requires a vehicle that can take a pounding, said Brian Barnes, spokesman for the motocross park. “The biggest thing is making sure the suspension is good and it’s a well-engineered car.”

While the 10-horsepower college cars can’t match the motocrossers for speed or volume, “It ends up being a huge deal,” Barnes said.

“It’s fun to watch those guys, and see the college team spirit they have,” Barnes said. “Sometimes they’ve spent a year on their car.

“In some races, second place is the first loser,” Barnes said. “These guys are all winners.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.