A group of Central Oregon high schoolers are back home after showing off their engineering skills in a nationwide solar car race. The race was unexpectedly cut short, but the trip and adventures continued.
“We’re the Oregon Solar Car Team. We’re a team of high schoolers from around Central Oregon who build and race a solar-powered car in the Solar Car Challenge, which is a national competition.,” said Trinity High School senior Jackson Knipe.
“It’s extremely lightweight. Just four people can lift this whole top off with all the solar panels on and hold it pretty easy,” said Mountain View High School senior Logan Foley.
“It’s trial and error. Learning how to weld and make electrical systems. And I mean, our car breaks all the time,” said Logan.
“We build every part of the car, so we do all of the electrical work and mechanical. We welded the frame ourselves. We laid up the carbon fiber body of the car. So we do all the work on it ourselves as high schoolers,” said Jackson.
The team took their custom-built, carbon fiber solar car to Fort Worth, Texas, for a cross-country race, where they would compete against high school teams from across the nation.
“We started at the Texas Motor Speedway with three days of scrutineering, so they check your car, making sure it’s safe and conforms to the rules of the race,” said Jackson.
After three long days, the team from Central Oregon passed, and the race was on. But adversity was right around the corner.
After their car broke down on Day 1 and put them 100 miles behind the leader, they had to dig themselves out of quite a hole.
“Learning to work as a team,” said Logan. “People say that, but to actually do it in crazy, high-stress environments where years of work has come together to this moment, it makes it important to perform as a team and keep your cool and be level-headed.”
They got the car fixed and began to excel. Victory on Day 2 followed by another solid showing on Day 3 had the Oregon Solar Car Team right where they wanted to be. But an unexpected twist would end the race after only three days of a planned eight-day race.
“About a third of the judges had COVID. They decided to cancel the race,” said Jackson.
A tough pill to swallow, But the team would put their heads together, problem solve and pivot. They cold-called racetracks in Texas, Arizona and California to see if anyone would let them run their solar car.
Multiple tracks said come on down. They’d be happy to host the kids from Oregon.
“You’re able to run the car, which was a lot of fun. See how it performed and still get some miles on it,” said Jackson. “You can go, when everything’s working properly, about 40 or 45 (mph) sustained throughout the whole day, which is really good for our team.
The kids decided to have some fun along the way.
“We took it through a Whataburger drive-thru,” said Logan.
A year’s worth of hard work paid off with a ton of new skills, new knowledge, new friendships and newfound confidence.
“I couldn’t imagine anything more fun to join any club other than this,” said Trinity High School freshman Will Schaffer.
And if you’re a high school kid watching this, Will has a message for you.
“Join the team. We need people to join this team. We need we need people who are good with media. We need people who are good with electrical. We need people who are good with financial. We need anybody. You don’t even have to work in the car to be on the team,” said Will.
The team does all their own fundraising to pay for the expenses involved. They’re always looking for sponsorships and help on the financial front, so reach out if you’d like to support these talented young engineers and mechanics.