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Racing Team Takes Checkered Flag In Competition

Bruin builders design battery-powered cart

Columbia High's Bruin Racing Team took the checkered flag last Saturday in the first "Go/Whoa Cart" design competition, sponsored by Western Washington University's Engineering Technology Department.

CHS's battery-powered cart -- built by seven students in instructor/adviser Chris Hipskind's industrial technology program -- earned top marks in all three parts of the competition held in Bellingham.

"It was a gas," Hipskind said of the experience, "but it was a bit of a letdown too because we were the only team (of eight) with a finished cart, so we were the only school that could legally compete."

But that didn't keep the Bruin Racing Team of Corry Atkisson, Adam Campbell, Ben Krenz, Ben Lastofka, Andy Meresse, Izak Riley and Shawn Thies in the pits.

With Meresse (the lightest team member) behind the wheel, the CHS cart performed up to contest specifications in all three phases:

a 150-foot drag race that measured the vehicle's capability for speed. (The CHS cart reached 24 miles per hour.)

a skid pad test that determined how well the cart stuck to the road. (CHS's cart pulled one-third of a `G,' about half that of a passenger car.)

a braking test that gauged how quickly the vehicle could come to a stop. (After traveling 50 feet, the CHS cart stopped within eight feet of its initial braking point.)

The Bruin Racing Team started building its vehicle in late February, based on a set of blueprints and a kit purchased from a Massachusetts firm's Internet website.

Members began the project, however, by researching electric-powered and battery-operated vehicles. They also interviewed experts in the community to get their ideas on how they'd approach constructing such a cart from scratch.

In addition, team members visited local businesses to discuss the project and enlist community support. All told, 12 businesses agreed to sponsor the venture. (Their names appear on the vehicle.)

"It's been a great learning experience for the kids, and for me," Hipskind said of the project. "From doing research and public relations, to fabricating the frame and battery box, and designing all the critical systems, the kids did it all."

Noted team member Ben Lastofka: "We designed and built the steering and braking systems, but we didn't build the drive train; that's about it."

While in Bellingham, the Bruin Racing Team toured the WWU campus and the Engineering Technology Department's automotive design program.

Two projects -- the construction of a Formula I race car and an all-terrain vehicle that will be involved in collegiate competitions -- piqued the CHS students' interest.

"I think this experience opened their eyes to the possibilities that exist for them," Hipskind said. "It's my hope that some of these kids will go onto higher education in the field of engineering."

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