A team of sixth-grade boys emerged from their underdog status to win the middle school division of the Long Beach Solar Grand Prix.
As sixth-graders, this was the first year Thomas Cramer, Cameron Kritzer, Matthew DeCosta and Jonah Widmann could participate in the solar remote control car race through Long Beach, Calif. Parks.
The race, organized by Long Beach’s 5th District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, is designed to teach students about solar power and give them an opportunity to experiment with it and use it.
Corporate sponsors pay for solar car kits for each of the school teams. This was the third year of the race and 57 middle and high school teams participated.
The Solar Speed team from Bethany Lutheran won the gold. But coach Thomas Crahan said the kids were surprised.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” he said.
The boys knew they needed the car to be light, so they built it on a piece of light-weight balsa wood. They used brass tubing for the axels and the rest was just experimenting and testing, Crahan said.
“In this case, the separator was gearing,” he said.
The car was definitely not the lightest one on the course. It was significantly heavier. And in its races, it wasn’t actually the fastest either, Crahan said. It came in second in nearly all of its races. But the cumulative speed was faster because the team had done a lot of researching and testing.
“We spent a couple weekend in the park running time trials,” Crahan said.
The boys measured the sun and tried different gearing combinations for the different positions of the sun to optimize the car’s speed.
And when it came to race day, they had spreadsheets detailing the best gearing choices for the positions of the sun and adjusted their gearing accordingly.
“The other teams, if they changed their gearing during the day, I think they did it arbitrarily,” Crahan said.
That clever attention to detail and the mechanics behind the car and the power source made all the difference.
“They loved it,” Crahan said. “They still play with the car and I’m sure they’ll do it again next year.”