Solar-powered fusion: Team heads to Austin as part of challenge

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Liberty Christian's solar car Solis Bellator makes a pit stop during testing at Texas Motor Speedway Tuesday July 22, 2014, in Denton County
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A ray of sunshine is what it takes to fuel one Liberty Christian School team.

On Wednesday, 11 students from the Argyle school hit the road bound for Austin as participants in the 21st annual high school Solar Car Challenge.

The team is one of approximately 20 from across the country making the 290-mile trek from Fort Worth in student-built racers.

The Solar Car Challenge promotes student involvement in science, engineering and alternative energy. The solar car traveling the farthest is deemed the challenge winner.

Lehman Marks, who’s directed the program since its inception, has seen interest skyrocket from three teams in 1993 to the spectacle it is today: 19 UFO-like cars covered front to back with solar panels that can reach top speeds of almost 70 mph.

“I promise the teams a week of fun in the sun. The prize is bragging rights and a trophy that’s almost as tall as I am,” said Marks, who stands just over 5 feet.

This year marks Liberty’s sixth appearance in the race. The team’s car, Solis Bellator, which is Latin for “warrior of the sun,” raced to Los Angeles last summer.

Having learned from previous contests, the team tweaked its approach this year. An open-air trailer for transporting the car was added so the sun can recharge its batteries, said Brent Dragoo, a team coach. The vehicle is equipped with upgraded solar panels for efficiency, he said.

Equipment for the car has improved and so has the Liberty team, Dragoo said. Everyone is working together, taking initiative and understanding their roles, he said. The team’s youngest members are assigned to safety duty so that they begin to understand race rules, Dragoo said.

“Their maturity level has grown exponentially,” he said of team members. “They’re very cohesive. They’re not afraid to work.

“And they work very well.”

The challenge began Saturday with testing and racing at Texas Motor Speedway and ends today at the Samsung Austin Semiconductor building.

The Dallas Morning News contributed to this report.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.

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