Staying on Track
Until a few years ago, the electric class was a little more than a novelty. Now it’s only a matter of time before the track is ruled by electricity rather than gasoline. Great Bend High School’s Vocational Technology Club (VTC) began 12 years ago. TRAVIS STRAUB, a woodworking teacher and VTC sponsor, acts as the ElectroRally instructor. His goal is to educate students and give them practical hands-on experience with different projects including building an electric vehicle (EV).
Wheatland Electric sponsors the Great Bend and Scott City high school ElectroRally programs, where teams build electric and solar powered cars and compete to see who can complete the most laps in an hour.
"This is a steady race of endurance. You cannot go full throttle unless passing someone or you are close to the end of a race and need to finish strong,” said JACE SCHWAGER, junior, Great Bend High School ElectroRally
team member. “You will run out of battery so it is a test of managing the car as well as racing it.”
Schwager is one of four active members in the Vocational Technology Club. JARED DIVIS, TRISTEN MILLIGAN and CALEB STRAUB are also a part of the VTC. These four have been busy retrofitting two electric vehicles. It’s no surprise that the Great Bend team has a red and a black electric vehicle (red and black are their school colors). The red car (388), commonly referred to as “Old Faithful,” races in the Standard Class. It differs from the black car (488) in multiple ways: it utilizes zero-turn steering, has a steel chassis and has two 12-volt batteries.
Before each race, the VTC members plan to modify the EV’s gears based on the design of each course. “Old Faithful” will compete in its first race in Scott City. The course in Beloit is fairly flat with tight turns and an “S” curve, compared to the course at Olathe Northwest High School which has more gradual turns and has longer straightaways.
Straub tries to take a backseat when the kids are making modifications to their cars. He encourages them to ask questions, but they make the decisions, right or wrong. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way.
“Last year at the Olathe race, the boys should have changed the gears because of how the course is designed,” said Straub. “They chose not to and they were unable to finish the race. I think they learned from that experience and won’t make the same mistake twice.”
The 488 car will race in the Experimental Class for the second year in a row. The VTC bought this electric vehicle from Lacrosse High School and has since made many modifications. This car boasts a chrome moly chassis, not a steel chassis. The chassis is the backbone of the vehicle. While weight is a prevalent concern, it is actually only one of several factors that contributes to a successful EV. Reliability is the key to winning and that’s the focus of each class period as they work on the cars.
“The most challenging piece of working on the cars is the fine tuning,” said Divis. “We have been aligning three wheels on the 488 car and adjusting the brakes for the last few months. It’s challenging and time consuming and that’s why I love it.”
Something new and exciting this year for the Great Bend team is the addition of headsets and microphones to help team members communicate while on the track. In previous years, the only way to communicate was with a “driveby,”—the driver would yell as they went by to check on their speed, mechanical problems, etc. The Bluetooth headsets and microphones will take their communications to the next level.
In addition to Wheatland’s sponsorship of the ElectroRally program, the Great Bend team has multiple sponsors that make the program possible: Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, Midwest Energy, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Parts, Inc., Somebody’s Body Shop, Oversize Warning Products Inc., Jackson Motorsports, Jackson Sand Cars, Golden Belt Bicycle Company and Office Products Incorporated.
Wheatland also helps organize the Sunflower ElectroRally held each spring at the Scott City Airport and provides volunteers who help with the course setup and take down, grill hamburgers and hotdogs for all of the race participants and whatever else is needed to help make the race a success.
Make plans to attend this year’s race on Wednesday, April 26.