By Steven Day
Saturday, May 4, was beautiful day in Elkhorn, Nebraska. As I watched the teams arriving for the OPPD Power Drive® State Championships, I thought of the TV character Hannibal Smith in "The 'A' Team" saying "I love it when a plan comes together!" Well, the plan was coming together very well. We had the most successful competition ever.
Before the day was complete, we had 46 cars compete in the various events. There were teams at the competition from high schools and colleges from all over Nebraska, and even a few from Iowa and Kansas.
The main competition was among the various high schools from Nebraska, but there were high schools from out of the state and several colleges that participated in the Exhibition class. The Exhibition class vehicles ran the same endurance event as the Standard and Advanced class, but they were not competing for points as the other classes were.
As a member of the Power Drive Advisory Committee and the Chairperson of the Rules Committee, I have been involved with the Power Drive since NPPD joined forces with OPPD to help promote and sponsor Power Drive in the second year of competition. Part of the responsibility of being on these committees is to participate in the actual events as much as possible.
This year, I was asked to take part in the judging for design and engineering evaluation for the advanced class vehicles. There were seven advanced class vehicles at the event, so we had a little more time to visit with the teams and look at the design and construction.
One of the things I enjoy most is visiting with young people when I can get them to talk about something that they believe in. That Saturday was an absolute delight. Since we had ample time to conduct these inspections, the three engineering inspectors decided to separate and interview the teams on our own. This was done to allow us an independent evaluation and also to allow the participating students to "tell their story" to more people.
As I went around and talked to the teams, it became readily apparent that they really believed in what they were doing. The enthusiasm of the students was displayed time and again during our discussions. They knew what they were doing and most of them had done a lot of background work before they started building the vehicle. As they built the vehicles, they learned about structural considerations, construction techniques, safety, ergonomics and other things.
It was very evident that the students learned a lot in the process of designing, building, testing, documenting and then competing in these vehicles. The common threads were that the students enjoyed the time spent on the projects and they recognized that learning took place.
The range of designs was quite wide and the level of sophistication in the vehicles varied greatly. One approach to design was the students that developed an idea, did a few relatively simple drawings, and started to build the car. They relied on testing and practice to work the "kinks" out of the design. The opposite end of the spectrum were the schools that used Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs to design the vehicle; researched body shapes by using wind tunnels designed and made by the students; and designed and built their own wheels for the vehicle. There were many varied approaches in between.
In summary, the students get a lot of practical experience that they would not otherwise get while working on Power Drive. They get to experience some of the feelings and excitement of "racing." They learn some of the complex problems that are faced by automotive designers while they are designing the relatively simple light electric vehicles used in Power Drive.
Personally, I was able to spend a day with a group of dedicated, committed, high school students. What a trip! I came away from the meet at Elkhorn feeling very good about the impact that Power Drive has had on these students. My "batteries" are fully charged and I can¹t wait until next year¹s rallies.
If you get a chance to see these rallies, I would urge you to do so. It will be something that could encourage you to volunteer to help on the following series.
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