Heated competition: Summer sun drives ingenuity

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Al Key/DRC
Liberty Christian School seniors Niko Jansen, left, and James Callan wait with Liberty graduate Josh Porter, in the driver’s seat of their team’s solar car, Solis Bellatar, for their turn on the track in the Solar Car Challenge on Monday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Students turned the hot sun to their advantage Monday as the Solar Car Challenge began at Texas Motor Speedway.

The event was created in 1993 to motivate students in engineering and science, as well as to increase alternative energy awareness. The competition includes high schools from around the country, including teams from Oregon, California and Oklahoma.

The challenge involves either a race at Texas Motor Speedway or a cross-country road trip to display the projects. Racing continues on the track this week.

This is Liberty Christian School’s fourth year to compete in the Solar Car Challenge.

Brent Dragoo and Kirk Porter, teachers at the private school in Argyle, led 11 students in the yearlong project of creating a solar-powered car.

Dragoo, the engineering and robotics teacher, said he encourages students to participate because the practical experience teaches them lessons they don’t learn in class.

The event helps students see and understand the process from previous years in order to create a successful product, he said.

“A lot of what we do here is counterintuitive to what physics tells you to do,” Dragoo said.

Each car must be street legal — equipped with brake lights, turn signals, horns and other components. They must comply with maximum size dimensions and various electrical and mechanical requirements.

Thus, each team’s product looks different, and teams use varying qualities of parts. These variations are due to the amount of money supplied by the schools, as well as sponsors who are involved with each team.

This year Liberty Christian connected with a retired racer, Larry Meyer, who has a full mechanical shop and was able to help teach the students about race cars.

“It’s really cool to expose the kids to that kind of expertise,” Dragoo said.

Josh Porter, who will be starting at Baylor University as an engineering student in the fall, was Liberty’s driver as well as the team’s chief fabricator.

As Liberty Christian’s car, named Solis Bellatar, came around the fourth turn, light clouds covered the sun, and the car began to slow down a bit.

“It is amazing how much the clouds affect the speed of these cars” Dragoo said.

Josh Porter’s twin sister and teammate, Destany Porter, who also will be attending Baylor, mentioned how much she enjoyed this project and the communal mentality of the challenge.

“I like how if something breaks on a car, all the teams will come together to help fix it,” she said.

The challenge is seen more of “a cooperation rather than a competition” Dragoo said.

Once Solis Bellatar completed its first lap, the Liberty Christian students were already discussing the difference in speed from the previous year and how their car was improved over last year.

“After spending countless hours on this thing, it is great to see it on the track running around,” said Conner Hutcherson, who will be a senior at Liberty this fall.


Solar Car Challenge: www.solarcarchallenge.org

Liberty Christian School’s team: http://solarcar.libertychristian.com

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