Bend-area high school students in ‘crunch time’ as they prep for national solar car competition

Bend-area high school students in ‘crunch time’ as they prep for national solar car competition

(Update: Adding video, comments from team coach and students)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — A group of Bend-area high schoolers have been working tirelessly to make their solar powered car ready for the national stage, and it’s almost show time. 

The car, four years in the making, is preparing to hit the track at the Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas for the Solar Car Challenge. 

The Oregon Solar Car Team built the car from scratch, with the help of their coach, Thomas Stueve.

“It does not come in a kit, there is no kit for solar power,” Stueve joked Wednesday.

Stueve helped bring the car team to Central Oregon in 2007 as a teacher at Trinity Lutheran High School and has been to the national race four times.

He said the problem-solving skills students learn building a car is something they can’t practice in a classroom.

“It doesn’t work, so how do I now make it work?” Stueve said, referencing a student asking questions. “That really drives learning in a really intense way, and so this week and the week that we’re in Texas will usually be the most amount of learning that students will do all year. Because they have to.”

The team’s previous solar-powered car was last used in 2019.

Stueve said the new version has a team-made roll cage, a skinnier cockpit, an extra wheel, and is even lighter and more powerful. 

The competition features 24 solar teams from all across the country.

It had as many as 64 registered at a time, but Stueve said with COVID and other factors, the number of teams dropped

The competition is over a four day period consisting of eight hour races per day.

The goal is for each car to drive as fast and as many laps as possible. 

Stueve said their car is using a bike motor, similar to that of the electric pub-mobiles used in Bend. 

He knows other teams will have better motors, capable of faster speeds, but said they only have a select budget, created from corporate and private donations and fundraisers.

The team has 12 students from several Bend-area high schools, with four of them old enough to drive during the race. 

EJ Kent isn’t driving, but he said the teamwork has made it a great experience. 

“‘Cause you know, you’ve got all your friends here that support you, and you can work together on building this car, which is awesome,” Kent said.

Kent and 10th-grader Kai Elgie helped weld the roll cage for the car, and have found a new passion with the team.

“Mechanical side, definitely,” Elgie said. “I’d say it’s a lot more hands-on.”

The team knows there’s a lot that can go wrong this week and during the race.

While they all want to win and have a successful car, Stueve says watching the students grow is what keeps him coming back.

“Just this process of learning that goes on, it’s just spectacular, and that’s why I continue to invest my summers in it, year after year — because it’s so, so rewarding,” Stueve said with a smile.

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