Student electric car builders compete at Frontier Park

By Randy Gonzales
Special to the Hays Daily News

There were no Tesla electric cars racing around Frontier Park on Thursday, but perhaps a future electric car designer was behind the wheel at the annual Kansas ElectroRally stop in Hays.

High school teams from all across the state competed at the rally. Participants designed, built and raced electric cars.

An electric car races on the course on Thursday at Frontier Park as part of an electric car rally for local and area high schools.

“The objective of the race is to see how many laps you can run in an hour’s time without changing batteries,” said Brian Dreiling of Midwest Energy, one of the rally sponsors. “We’re always promoting programs. This is one of the things that ties electric utilities and the schools together.”

Members of the Scott City pit crew work to change a flat tire on one of the team’s cars at Thursday’s electric car rally at Frontier Park.

The cars can reach speeds of excess of 30 miles per hour and travel 25 miles in a one-hour period, according to the rally’s website, which noted that the organization hosts competitions in which teams build lightweight and efficient electric vehicles.

Eight high schools participated Thursday, including Hays High, racing in the standard class. In addition, some experimental cars had solar panels and Fort Hays State University entered two teams in the open division.

Scott City entered seven cars with mixed success. Some fared well, but sophomore Cody Vance’s vehicle had to make a pit stop with a flat tire.

“I blew a tire and had to come into the pits to have that changed,” Vance said. “When I got back out my batteries were too low to keep going. Had to call it a day. Very frustrating.”

Allen Thornburg has been the Scott City team’s head coach for the last five years. The electric car project started as an after-hours program but is now in the school’s curriculum. This year, Thornburg has 15 students and four teams, with seven cars entered Thursday.

“My thing, we spend a lot of time if the kids want to spend a lot of time,” Thornburg said. “If they have the interest, we’ll spend time after school.”

Junior Gui Griffith is in his third year with the Scott City team.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s an engineering project and I’m big into the STEM program.”

Griffith said having a good car is important, but the driver has to be smart, too.

“If you have decent equipment it comes down to who is the better driver,” Griffith said.

Strategy is important, Thornburg said.

“They can’t drive it like a go-cart,” he said.