By Jill Penley
Bristol Motor Speedway played host to 20 schools from 15 different school systems for their second annual solar go-kart race earlier this month. The event, sponsored by First TN Solar Go Kart Challenge and the Northeast Tennessee Technical Education Alliance, allowed area student s to showcase their karts created as part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Annah Thompson, a junior at JCHS and driver for this year’s race. “We are already looking forward to next year.”
Last year, each school received a “Perkins Reserve Grant” from the Tennessee Department of Education to fund the go-karts and their construction. “The students had to figure out how to convert a gasoline-powered go-kart to solar power,” said David South, JCHS automotive instructor, “by placing solar panels, a charging system and other equipment on the karts.” This year, the schools were given $1,000 to make modifications or improvements to their karts. South continues to head up the project for JCHS not only due to his extensive knowledge as an automotive instructor but also because of his decades of drag racing experience.
Given a broad overview of how their kart should work and a list of requirements and regulations they must conform to, the students have a great deal of freedom in how the team may make modifications using the information they glean from research and testing.
“In automotive you’re always problem-solving. That’s part of what we do as auto mechanics. We listen to customer complaints and figure out how to resolve those problems and issues,” South explained. “We’re looking at some problems with this project that will enhance these student’s awareness on how to solve issues.”
The challenge had a qualifying round and endurance races where teams attempted as many laps as possible in the allotted time provided. When all was said and done, Clinch School took the top spot in speed followed by Hampton High School in second, and Johnson County High School in third. For the endurance race, Elizabethton High placed first; Johnson County High came in second, and Greeneville Center for Technology came in third.