My Greenpower weekend was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about Greenpower and stuff kids are learning. One of the things I learned was that it wasn’t always the car that looks the best that wins (although they do have special awards for that). It actually turned out to be the car that sounded the best that won. More on that later.
I have a link to this kind of competition that makes me very interested in checking out what is going on with these vehicles. I helped put myself through college working in a bicycle shop. Plus, one of the non-credit things I was involved in was the solar race car SpiRIT. I helped design and build the wheels. Below in black and white was our car on the cover of a school magazine from 1990. Greenpower is not solar powered, but it is electrical, single driver, race involving students. Greenpower cars are built from kits, but you can customize certain aspects of the kit for each division. The most advanced division is a complete custom car, starting from only stock battery and motor.
My last Greenpower post talked mainly about the Goblin cars, which are for the younger kids, but still gives them the experience of assembling, decking out, testing, and racing their own car. The older jr. high kids do the F-24, which accounts for most of what I saw on Saturday, and my pictures here.
Some of these cars really had some remarkable body work on them. The Jemison High School that hosted this event had incredible facilities complete with autoclave for curing composite bodies, a layup area for forming the fabric and resin over a form, vacuum tables for evacuating gas bubbles, as well as dedicated CAD labs (full of Solid Edge of course), and a 3D Print room with machines.
Yes, this was a high school in suburban Huntsville, Alabama. Obviously the kids have to have some supervision and training to work with the equipment and materials here, but the learning is available to them, which gives them an incredible leg up when moving to real jobs or university. I had to wait to college for this sort of experience.
Much of the credit for making a race like this happen has to go to the SCCA, Sports Car Club of America. They brought some of their own toys, and took on the immense task of setting up the track, and securing the track for driver and fan safety.
The SCCA really helped with giving the event a sense of legitimacy. The Greenpower people have a lot on their plate with just getting the event organized that the SCCA volunteers were really crucial in making all of this happen, and happen safely, in an organized manner. So, yes, this is real racing.
Along with the real racing, at the F24 level, we have kids learning how to assemble the components of the kit, and check it out to make it safe. They can from there customize components for aerodynamics, rolling resistance, weight, data collection, and so on. This is the beginning of real engineering. Finding weaknesses and making improvements. Using data to compare options.
These kids need mentors. If racing sounds like fun to you, and you think you could help kids learn more about any of the disciplines required to make one of these cars go (mechanical skill, computer skills, accounting, electrical, organizational, managing sponsorships, safety, social media, communications, and so on…) you can get a team started in your local area by checking out the GreenpowerUSA site.
By the way, the sound of a winning car is near silence. You can hear the difference the stock tires make against the pavement compared to special narrower, higher pressure racing slicks. Bad bearings or motors under strain also make too much noise, and all of this equates to resistance. Racing at Indy may entail a lot of noise and the strong scent of jet fuel, but Greenpower has that satisfying high-tech sound of whirring electric motors and highly efficient high pressure tires against smooth pavement.