Weatherford Democrat

July 24, 2013

Running on rays

Solar car race teams make Springtown stop on their way to LA


Weatherford Democrat

— By BRIAN SMITH



SPRINGTOWN — It’s a cross country journey those involved with will remember for the rest of their lives.

More than a dozen solar car teams made their way to Springtown Intermediate School Tuesday as the first stop in the Solar Car Challenge 2013. The race runs from suburban Fort Worth to its scheduled conclusion in Los Angeles July 30.

Teams from as far away as Mississippi, Michigan and New York are competing, according to spokesman Dr. Lehman Marks with the Solar Car Challenge. Getting high school students interested in science and engineering is the main focus of the challenge.

“For the kids taking part, it’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Marks explained. “Our second focus is knowing that we are exposing about 10 million youth to science and engineering through this race and the program.” From Springtown, the teams, which each have more than a dozen members and parents, put their cars on trailers to be taken to the Cool area. Teams took U.S. Highway 180 to Snyder where the race ended for the day.

Some of the towns the teams are traveling through are welcoming them with open arms, Marks said. Snyder hosted a hamburger supper for all those taking part while Carlsbad, N.M., will host a parade where the cars will travel through town, Marks said.

The race is different in some respects, as the winner is not who crosses the finish line first. The race begins at 9 a.m. each day from a designated spot and runs until 5 p.m.

Where a team is at 5 p.m. that day, their mileage is calculated from the start of the day and the miles per day are added up, according to Tabitha Hippler, whose son Cullen is a member of the Bullard, Texas, team. Hippler said all the kids, who are in their first-ever race, have worked really hard to get to this point, raising all the money to build the car and expenses themselves to the tune of nearly $100,000.

The seed for Bullard competing in the race was planted at a camp last summer at the University of Texas-Dallas. The Bullard team pulled into the school parking lot second overall, but first in their division with captain Austin Gwartney at the controls.

Gwartney said the 28-mile journey went well but admitted the course was a little more hilly than the team was expecting, which can drain the battery. As a precaution to save the main battery, an auxiliary battery was quickly installed before the teams hit the road again.

A team from Houston, Miss., a town of about 4,000 45 miles south of Tupelo, was the first team to arrive via trailer just after 9 a.m. Tuesday. High school physics teacher Anita Ellison said all the Houston team members were members of the electricity class at the 500-student school. The team has taken part in many Solar Car Challenge races.

Teams compete in different divisions, based on experience, according to a press release. Newer teams take part in the Classic division, which requires participants to use less expensive conventional motors, lead batteries and less efficient solar cells. Older teams enter the Open division and can use more expensive technology.

Each car must have a roll cage similar to NASCAR rides, a safety harness, turn signals and a fire extinguisher. Vehicles and trailers are available in case of a breakdown, one which happened on the way to Springtown, with all race aspects being closely monitored.