A process of trial and error: Solar-powered go-karts race at Bristol Motor Speedway

Students from Elizabethton High School participated in a regional go-kart competition at the famous Bristol Speedway Tuesday, though the results of the competition were not as positive as they had hoped.

This was no ordinary go-kart competition, though. Instead of gasoline or another traditional fuel source, kart racers used giant solar panels to power their vehicles.

“This was a two-hour endurance race,” STEM teacher David Campbell said. “It was based on how well you can charge your batteries and how efficient your cart is.”

Initially, the design showed promise, placing the racer in the Top Three within the first 10 laps. After that, however, it all went downhill.

“We went from top three to barely making it around the track,” he said.

In the final standings after the two hours were up, EHS scored dead last at 21 laps.

EHS sophomore Clayton Meritt said this was the first year he got to race in the actual cart itself.

“At the beginning, we were confident,” he said. “We just died at around lap 12.”

He said he was not too deterred by the defeat, however.

“It was still fun coming to Bristol and racing,” he said. “Driving was the coolest part, and learning how everything worked.”

The team said they were not quite sure what went wrong to cause them to lose power so quickly.

“We did flip the vehicle [the day before],” Campbell said. “However, we are not sure what exactly went wrong.”

Campbell said this year, in comparison to the past two years, had a tighter budget to get the cart put together. They did not purchase any new parts for their rig, instead learning to rely on what they had available to work with.

He said the defeat, however, was still a crucial part of the experience.

“Engineering is a series of failures,” he said. “This year was by far the hardest.”

He said the series of success and failure pattern of projects like this is what sparks up interest in the field for students.

“For me, this is the best kind of project we can do,” Campbell said. “This will make people get interested in engineering.”

They said they plan to return to next year’s competition, with just as much hope of coming out on top as they did this time.

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