Going Green:
Go-cart competition requires use some kind of renewable energy





By Kim Underwood


One team made the frame for its go-cart out of bamboo. Another team powered its cart with a starter motor from an airplane. A third team fueled its cart with used french-fry oil.

"It smells like french fries when we turn it on," said Logan Maxwell, a student at the Career Center.

What every team at the Go Green Go Kart Competition at the Career Center yesterday had in common was the drive to make the best "green" cart they could. Teams had the option of going electric, or using biodiesel, ethanol or methanol as fuel.

Making the frame for their cart out of bamboo probably took more work than making one out of steel would have been, said Ian Hill of Team Bamboozled, but he and the other members liked the idea of going green with the frame as well.

All but three of the 12 teams were associated with the Career Center. The other teams were from Reagan High School, Carter Vocational High School and the School of Pre-Engineering at Atkins High School.

Pedro Torres sat at the wheel of the electric car designed and built by a team of juniors in the automotive-technology class at the Career Center.

How was he picked to be the driver?

"The lightest one who could follow instructions," said Johnny Dixon, the teacher advising the team.

The teams included young women as well as young men, and one of the Career Center teams had also chosen to go light by putting Kaylie Chrismon behind the wheel for the timed trials.

The teams put together their carts on limited budgets. A junked car starter, a dolly, a junked diesel engine from a generator and wheels from a lawn mower were among the parts that ended up on one cart or another.

"We did a lot with a little," said Aidan McCaul, a member of the Atkins team. "We all worked real hard on it."

Ron Moats, the teacher advising the Atkins team, said that the project had benefits beyond designing and building the cart. To raise money to build their electric cart, team members wrote letters to a number of companies asking for support. Their efforts paid off. Brad's Golf Carts provided a golf-cart motor and other support, and other companies came through as well.

Robert Kerr, a ninth-grader at Atkins, said he learned a lot about the value of taking the time to do things right.

Students learned about teamwork, too.

Tracey Maxwell, who dropped by to see her son Logan's team in action, said: "I feel like he has learned how to work with other kids who have good ideas, too. They have to come to a consensus about what is best for the team. It's a lot of creative people working together, and that's not always easy."

After giving each team time to practice on a course set up in a parking lot, each team was timed as the driver drove the cart around the circuit three times. Although times were posted, there were no official winners, and when a drive chain or wheel fell off -- as happened more than once -- a team was given the opportunity to fix the problem and take another go.

Although all the carts had kill switches so that they could be stopped in case of trouble, the throttle on one cart stuck and a photographer with the Winston-Salem Journal ended up with some bruises and scrapes as she jumped out of the way.

The photographer was the only person injured, said Dennis Moser, the principal at the Career Center.

Sean Bennett, a teacher at the Career Center and one of the organizers of the competition, said that, as far as they knew, they were the only high school in the state staging such a competition. Bennett and the others said that they hope this becomes an annual activity that comes to draw high-school teams from all over the state.

The competition grew out of the Alternative Energy Club at the Career Center, and that, in turn, grew out of parking-lot duty last fall for Career Center teachers Kai Ehnes and Bill Longyard. Both drive vehicles powered by biodiesel, and one day they got to talking about how satisfying it would be to encourage young people to explore the future of alternative energy. They established the club. Ehnes said they also hope to establish a class on alternative energy at the Career Center.

Longyard said that the man who invented the jet engine, Hans von Ohain, was young when he came up with a design using existing technology, and, with that example in mind, he thinks that young people have just as good a chance as anyone to come up with creative solutions.

Shane Colton, who came to town from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the competition, agreed.

"I don't think there is an age restriction on making discoveries," Colton said. "It's really about creativity."

Kim Underwood can be reached at 727-7389 or at kunderwood@wsjournal.com.