Boogity, Boogity, Boogity!: 20 schools race solar karts at Bristol Motor Speedway

Published 4:59 pm Monday, May 7, 2018

Northeast Tennessee’s brightest minds were able to let their machines do the talking Monday afternoon.

Throughout the day, 20 Northeast Tennessee high schools from 15 school districts did battle in the second annual First TN Solar Powered Go-Kart Challenge inside Bristol Motor Speedway as a way to promote the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field of study.

After a rousing success from year one ago, BMS staff knew it would be a no-brainer to offer the second installment of the series.

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“Last year’s solar powered go-kart race was a culmination of taking what you learn in the classroom and applying it to a real world situation,” Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of BMS, said in a statement issued to the Elizabethton Star Monday. “The event is a great way for students to put science, technology, engineering and math into motion. It’s incredible to see the young talent we have in this region.”

Elizabethton and Carter County school systems were represented during the afternoon as they looked to build off last year’s results.

At last update, Hampton High School finished first place in the speed competition and fourth in endurance. Results for Elizabethton High School will be available in Wednesday’s print edition.

For Elizabethton High School, the process was all about focusing on the endurance portion of the race. Cyclone racers were able to take home first place honors last year but had to adjust with some changes to the rules for this year’s race.

“This year, we started completely over,” said EHS teacher David Campbell. “At the very beginning of the year, we tore (the kart) all the way down. Where they changed some of the rules, we had to rework the way we’d use our kart. We started from the ground up.”

Campbell added that fourth period students from the school worked on the project all year long. Fifth period students form the second semester also provided a helping hand for the endeavor. EHS saw their automotive and STEM classes work together to put the kart in a position to run during Monday’s event.

“It has been a complete overhaul this year, with more in-depth work,” Campbell said. “They spent most of the year getting the specs together, redid the wheel hubs, bearings … I can’t say enough about the students’ work. They did a great job.”

Across the track, Hampton High School’s team was also looking to keep their momentum going from last year’s second place race.

“The students put a lot of hours into the kart,” said HHS teacher Daniel Arnett. “It’s really motivating for the kids to put in the work for a project like this and see it come together the way it did. Mr. (Bruce) Wiltshire and Mr. (Scotty) Johnson really did a great job working with the students to get them in a position to be ready.”

Hampton received some assistance from Johnson and a pair of Unaka High School collision students. Having a team effort made the event even more enjoyable, according to Wiltshire, an instructor at Hampton.

“This year we had to throw some new guys into the mix,” he said. “The students would find a problem, and fix it. They were quick to manufacture stuff they we wouldn’t even think of. (Unaka) has been great to work with too. Mr. Johnson and his students helped tweak the car today and helped get the car ready for the race.”

Each school that participated in Monday’s race was able to receive a “Perkins Reserve Grant” from the Tennessee Department of Education to fund the project. Last year, each school system was awarded $99,000 for the project. Each school received an additional $1,000 this year to go toward their karts.

Having the event available to students provides a unique experience for this high school career, Campbell said, while giving them motivation to pursue STEM education.

“Out of all the state competitions we have a chance to compete in, this is one of the best,” he said. “It is hands on, the kids get a chance to come to Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s a great experience for everyone involved.”

Wiltshire seconded Campbell’s sentiments.

“It’s a very important event for the students,” he said. “I hope they can keep it going on for the years to come. We can start pushing this at the lower grades to get them ready for more hands-on learning in STEM.”