A Hundred Years of Buggies at CMU
A speedy CMU tradition hits the century mark this month.
If you visited Carnegie Mellon University’s Spring Carnival any time over the past 100 years, you might’ve seen crowds gather in Schenley Park to watch pod-shaped vehicles with people tucked inside whip around Flagstaff Hill.
In the annual relay race — officially called Sweepstakes but colloquially known as Buggy — students take turns pushing an aerodynamic vehicle steered by a student positioned face first inside. The race is part of Carnegie Mellon’s Spring Carnival, a tradition that draws alumni back to campus to celebrate with current faculty and students. But even if they are unable to be there, former students, especially those who participated in Buggy, find ways — like watching via live streaming (cmubuggy.com/live) — to stay a part of it.
“We have alumni watching from every continent,” says 2011 graduate and Buggy Alumni Association Centennial Committee Chair Ben Matzke. “It’s your team. You can root for them every year.”
Student-led organizations such as SPIRIT (Carnegie Mellon’s Black Student Union), Student Dormitory Council and various Greek organizations compete annually on the .84-mile course. Each organization consists of designers, engineers and mechanics who collaborate to build the fastest buggies possible. Throughout the race, buggies can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour; even the best cannot succeed, however, without talented “pushers” (the athletes who propel the buggies forward) and “drivers” (the often short-in-stature students who steer the vehicles).
The first Interfraternity Sweepstakes Race was held in the spring of 1920 as part of an alumni celebration called Campus Week. At the time, only fraternities competed — meaning that women and members of other student organizations were left out. In 1979, official women’s heats were added; the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, the first all-women organization to compete, entered the competition in 2004. Over the 100-year history of Buggy, students have cut down racing times by more than 2 minutes.
Carnegie Mellon plans to commemorate this year’s monumental occasion with an all-campus anniversary celebration, a “History of Buggy” presentation and more — including a Buggy virtual reality experience, allowing non-competitors a taste of the race.