Students put final touches on race cars

'It looks like a redneck lawn chair'
Apr. 01, 2014 @ 06:13 AM

At Hibriten High School, Charlie Davis, Hunter Justice and William Kent gathered with pride and beaming smiles around the mostly finished car they are building. The fire-engine-red body shimmered in the light from the recently applied spray paint. The car still had no steering wheel, and two of the wheels will be replaced with more road-friendly tires.

“It looks like a redneck lawn chair,” Kent said.

But by the time the fourth annual Gravity Games arrive this Saturday, they will have their car able to steer and ready to take on the other built-from-scratch cars. The event, sponsored by Google and Appalachian State University, will bring more than 40 teams from across the state to race cars they built to win prizes such as Google Chromebooks, Nexus tablets and a Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer that plugs into a TV and a keyboard and can be used in electronics projects and for some things that a desktop PC does.

Davis, Justice, Kent and Tyler Johnson, who was at a golf game at the time of the interview, have worked on their car for a month. The guys said it was a time of “trial and error” and YouTube surfing. The car is made out of parts from all over. Shawn Moore, instructional technology facilitator for Hibriten, was a major help by finding bike parts at his shop, Luna Cycles, and neighboring shops.

“We really appreciate what Mr. Moore has done because without his bike parts, we wouldn’t have anything but a metal frame,” Kent said. “He lives and breathes bikes.”

Along the way, the boys learned about the fundamentals of bicycles, the real-life use of tangents from their calculus class and the terminology of their construction. Their favorite part was building a car from nothing during school.

"During school, you’re usually in a classroom. Out here, you’re in the shop actually doing hands-on things, getting to actually build stuff,” Davis said.

Kent added, “How often do you get to come to school and use a saw?”

All contestants have used hands-on and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, learning in order to build their cars, whether from scratch or from kits. And, that’s why Google operations manager Enoch Moeller loves them.

“The kids really seem to have a lot of fun with it. Even the kids who aren’t driving. In my personal opinion, the best way to get kids excited about learning is to involve them in hands-on activities like this. They have a lot of fun, and therefore we have a lot of fun,” Moeller said.

This year, there are two categories: kit cars and engineered, or cars built from scratch. Moeller said that in previous races the cars built from scratch just could not compete with those constructed from a kit. This way, everyone has a fair advantage. A new category of self-powered cars had been added, but there was no interest. Moeller hopes to have it again next year and find some contestants who are up to the challenge.

As of Monday, the long-term forecast held a 20 percent chance of rain for Saturday, with a high in the mid-70s. Moeller hopes for dry weather.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he said.

The fourth annual Gravity Games, sponsored by Google, will run Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in downtown Lenoir. Contestants from middle schools and high schools will race, just like a soap box derby, for a chance to win prizes.