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E-car teams race to get ready for first competition

By BEN MCCARTY

News staff writer

February 17, 2007

In two and a half weeks the aluminum skeleton sitting behind Chase Drone, Jeremy Page and Steve Culpepper should be zipping around a track at Mt. Hood Community College at close to 40 miles per hour.

At least they hope that is the case.

“It’s going to be a push,” Page said, as he and his fellow members of team “Cobra Commander” look at their ride. “We’re coming in extra hours to get it done.”

The team came up with the design for the “Commander” early in Jeff Blackman’s applied engineering class, and while they have seen other groups sacrifice their designs for structural improvements, the team knows it wants to keep its design intact as they try to get their electric car functional for the HRVHS class’ first race on March 3.

However, as GI Joe would say, “Knowledge is half the battle.” The other half is getting the car completed on time for the race.

The group is working on one of six cars that Blackman hopes his class will be able to field this year—if he can get enough parts.

The team currently has enough parts for four fully functional cars, but is in need of batteries and two motors to ensure that the final two cars get to race — parts that cost $3,500 that the class does not have.

As it is the outfit is currently making do with donated parts and time. Several of the vehicles are currently built out of donated aluminum windsurfing booms that have been cut and welded together to make the frames for the cars.

Last year the team experimented with lightweight carbon fiber materials – to mixed results. One car caught fire, and several others wrecked during races. This year the teams are largely using aircraft-grade aluminum.

That is with the exception of the team of Damian Burris, Jose Funaz and Jeff Smith.

The team’s car is unique on several fronts: It is built on a steel frame, which makes it heavier, but also can support a heavier driver and supports its rear-wheel steering system. The rear-wheel steering will allow the car to take corners sharper, which the team hopes will make up for the battery drain caused by the heavier frame.

The steering system is still coming together, and like many of the other cars in the shop, the car is still mostly a frame, but the team hopes that it will be able to provide a different path to victory when they complete the car.

“We’ve still got a long way to go in two-and-a-half weeks,” Smith said.

Some of the members of the class look forward to applying the engineering skills they learn in the class to their future experiences. Others just do it for the fun.

Seniors Scott Brouse and Bryce Dalby are working together on a car and love both getting to build the cars and race them.

“That’s what I like about is the engineering,” Dalby said, adding that he has learned how to Tig weld, the process of welding carbon fiber parts, since he has taken the class.

Brouse also enjoys the engineering, but says other parts of the class are hard to ignore.

“Of course the go carts are awesome,” Brouse said.

The teams routinely put in six hours every other day as they head down the home stretch to get their cars built. But even though it takes a lot of hard work and frusturation to get the cars working, Blackman believes it is worth it.

“I don’t teach them anything, but they learn a lot,” Blackman said.

After its race at Mt. Hood Community College, Blackman is working on getting a race organized in downtown Hood River.

The class members enjoy working on their cars, as well as reminiscing about the many crashes that their instructor has in his care.

Those stories may be ending soon.

“As you can see, I don’t get much respect around here,” Blackman said with a wry smile. “But that may change once they get their grades.”

The team is still in need of parts and donations to get all of its cars operational by their first race, and anyone interested in contributing is encouraged to contact Jeff Blackman at the high school.

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