Northshore high school students build rare electric race car

  • Written by Kirsten Abel, Features Writer

According to Pat McCue, Bothell High School’s automotive teacher, there are only two AC-powered 800-volt drag racing cars in the world.

One of them is in Sweden. The other is in Bothell. But what’s even more remarkable than the car’s rarity is the team that built it. The car was assembled by the high school students in McCue’s automotive technology class.

“We are really truly on the cutting edge,” McCue said. The all-electric drag racer, named Shock and Awe, took about two years to build.

Almost every electric car uses a DC motor, which employs brushes to keep electricity flowing. As the electricity flows through the brushes, sparks are created. Those sparks will wear down a motor very quickly if under heavy use, like in a drag racing vehicle.

Instead of a DC motor, Shock and Awe is outfitted with an AC motor. Since an AC uses magnets instead of brushes, the system can last a lot longer. DC motors can create more torque, but AC motors can spin a lot faster.

CARShock and Awe, the electric drag racer, can travel up to 166 miles per hour. (Photos courtesy of Pat McCue)

McCue’s class has raced Shock and Awe several times, including one record-breaking performance at Mission Raceway Park in Shoreline last month.

According to the National Electric Drag Racing Association, Shock and Awe holds the record in the high school class of cars 600 volts or more. The racer traveled a quarter of a mile in 8.32 seconds and reached just over 166 miles per hour.

“At the beginning of the year we all thought it would be about a ten-second car,” said Nathan Schuler, a Woodinville High School senior and a member of McCue’s automotive class. The 8.32-second time, Schuler said, “is light years faster.”

The automotive tech class includes students from Bothell, Woodinville and Inglemoor High Schools. Over the past several years, McCue’s students have undertaken a number of ambitious projects including the Bothell golf cart frequently seen at home football games.

When the class converted a black BMW into an electric vehicle about five years ago, a Seattle organization called foundry10 took notice. They provided the grant for the project that eventually became Shock and Awe.

“They believe that students learn best by doing hands-on projects and group learning activities,” McCue said of foundry10.

Shock and Awe has come a long way, but there is still room for improvement. In the beginning, the car experienced wheel hop, meaning the tires wouldn’t stick to the track at the time of launch. A problem with the power inverters also caused the car to shut off during races.

In the future, the students will make more changes to the car to increase speed and battery power. The class only raced the car for about half of the events normally included in a racing season, and they didn’t push the car to its limit until the very last race.

“Our plan for next year is to be able to race consistently at every race,” said Schuler. The goal is to better equip the car so it can handle the punishment of a racing season and perform as well as a gasoline-powered drag racer.

McCue said that the Shock and Awe project has had a profound affect on many of his students. “It’s really given them a boost of confidence to know that they can do these things.”

StudentsHigh school students in Pat McCue’s automotive technology class are the brains behind the all-electric race car.

During races, McCue treats his students like members of a crew. Not only are they learning the detailed ins and outs of electric cars, they are also learning how to be leaders.

Oswaldo Beltran Carbajal, another of McCue’s automotive students, said, “I never imagined myself working on a race car that would later on beat a world record. I know for sure that this project is going to leave a huge impact on my life.”

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