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Solar drag racer team successfully defends world record

South Whidbey fans and supporters celebrate the successful defense of the world solar drag racing record in Wenatchee on June 28 — 29.5 seconds — by members of South Whidbey High School’s solar team, including Chad Yingling, Teddy Housego, Brad Groce and Trevor Ulrich. - Photo courtesy of Tim Economu
South Whidbey fans and supporters celebrate the successful defense of the world solar drag racing record in Wenatchee on June 28 — 29.5 seconds — by members of South Whidbey High School’s solar team, including Chad Yingling, Teddy Housego, Brad Groce and Trevor Ulrich.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Tim Economu

Even with a heavy layer of clouds, it was a sunny day for South Whidbey High School’s solar drag racing team.

The Falcons successfully defended the world solar drag racing record they set last year, which still stands at 29.5 seconds.

The usually reliable Wenatchee sun faded on race day, however, but the Falcon team prevailed against the two other teams present at the competition on Saturday, June 21.

The other competitors were a combined high school/middle school team from Republic Middle School and a sleek racer from Brooks Solar Inc., a Chelan-based supplier and designer of solar and wind systems.

This year’s event drew a record crowd of roughly 120 people to Confluence Technology Center in Olds Station.

The best time run by South Whidbey was 46 seconds at about 28 mph in the standing ¼ kilometer race, but that was a good 10 seconds faster than the nearest competitor; Randy Brooks with Brooks Solar Inc.

“South Whidbey not only won first in its class, but also was faster than the other two high school cars,” advisor Tim Economu said.

Part of the secret to the fastest time was a new continuously variable ratio transmission the team employed to convert the solar power used to accelerate the car. The teams are not allowed to use storage devices like batteries, so the solar power had to be efficiently converted to horsepower to drive the racer.

South Whidbey’s “magic box” was concealed within a cardboard box, painted blue and displayed the words “containment tray.”

Economu noted that maintaining secrets is part of the fun.

Team members included Chad Yingling, Teddy Housego, Brad Groce and Trevor Ulrich.

Groce was at the controls for the winning run.

“I was really nervous, but the new transmission let me get up to speed faster with less wasted energy,” he recalled. “It’s a lot smoother than last year’s car.”

In addition to winning the race, the students were able to speak with Zuo Bin Wang, an official from China’s Ministry of Energy, who was there to observe and take ideas back to China after visiting hydroelectric plants on the Columbia River.

Groce said it was awesome to meet a high official from another country.

“What we were doing was important enough for him to show up and that made the day even more special,” he said.

The kids offered the energy minister a ride but he declined.

“Next time,” he told them.

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