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Electrathon combines imagination, calculated design

By ADAM LAPIERRE

News staff writer

March 11, 2006

The sport of Electrathon rallying is fairly new in the United States. Originating in popularity from Europe and Australia, the sport has for over a decade been a popular way for tech-talented designers and drivers to be competitive and innovative within the same activity.

The goal of Electrathon is to design and build the lightest and most efficient electric vehicle possible, then race that vehicle in a format that rewards drivers who go the farthest distance within a set time limit, using a set amount of electricity. And the distances quality-designed cars, which are limited in weight to 67 pounds, can drive can be impressive, with cars often traveling 30 miles or more off only cents worth of electricity.

The sport is gaining in popularity across the county, particularly in high school and college classrooms. Hood River Valley High School’s applied engineering class has a squad of four cars this year, designed and built by students with the help of instructor Jeff Blackman. In its fourth year at the high school, the class is now a credit-bearing elective for juniors and seniors, giving students real-life, hands-on and tangible lessons in design, electronics, physics, mathematics and engineering, as well as teamwork, collective-thinking and collaboration.

Last year the class took a big step forward in vehicle design, shifting from lightweight metal construction to composites and carbon-fiber, which provides a learning experience in itself. Creating lightweight and efficient electric-powered carbon-fiber cars with fellow classmates for high school credit might be, for the tech-minded tinkerers and mister and miss Gadgets, the best class of the year.

Last weekend, the class entered three of its four vehicles in the Mt. Hood Community College Race, which brought 20 competitive vehicles from around the northwest to the Gresham campus for the first race of the 2006 season.

“The track was very rough, with pot holes and cracks in the pavement,” Blackman commented. “Out of twenty cars only 14 survived the hour-long race.”

All three of Hood River’s three drivers, namely Kevin Dye, Kory Castro and Bryce Dalbey, finished the race. Dalbey hit a curb and took out one of his wheels, but his pit crew installed a spare and got him back into the race fast enough for an eight place finish. Castro and crew finished fourth and, leading the class of Hood River racers was Dye, who finished second overall in his personally-designed racer.

Blackman and students will host the next race in the Oregon Electrathon circuit on April 8 at the Cascade Locks Marina.

“Racing could not be possible without our sponsors,” Blackman said. “Thanks to Napa Auto Parts, E&L Auto Parts, Tallman Ladders, Fiberglass Supply, Cardinal Glass and Mt. View Bikes.”

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