It wasn’t about speed, it was about distance.
It didn’t involve conventionally fueled cars, it involved alternative energy sources.
It was the Electrathon, an amateur electric car race held at Ferris High School.
The six-car race featured entrants from Spokane and Sandpoint. The hand-built electric cars navigated a quarter-mile, kidney-shaped track in the Ferris parking lot. It quickly turned into the electrical version of the race between the tortoise and the hare.
Saturday, the tortoise came out on top again, edging the hare by six laps in a race matching electric cars built by area high school students and alternative energy enthusiasts.
In her first race, winner Sue McClure of Sandpoint logged 90 laps in the hour time limit by running an even, consistent pace.
“I didn’t want to go all out,” McClure said.
Her total bettered Steve Van Rok, also of Sandpoint, who chose to push his machine to the limit.
“For me to win the race I have to hope I have accumulated enough laps early,” Van Rok predicted halfway through the race.
McClure and Van Rok are members of the Inland Northwest Electrical Vehicle Association, a new electric vehicle club in Sandpoint. The club is made up of people who are interested in finding alternative energy power sources.
“This is a really good way, especially for high school kids, to get a chance to see the relevance of math and science,” Van Rok said.
Ferris entered the only high school team. Seniors Grant Keller, Travis Ruhl and Bill Powell teamed to build and race a car. Their car, driven by Keller and Ruhl, completed 64 laps, good for third place.
The project was part of a science intern class the three were taking from physics teacher Eric Swenson. The class is an independent study course designed for students who have taken a year of science.
“Each teacher handles it differently,” Swenson said. “I say come up with a project dealing with science and your grade will be based on that.”
The electric car project fit the assignment.
“You’d be surprised how much geometry and physics goes into just the steering,” Swenson said.
The 150-pound, metal-framed, one-passenger car featured three wheels and battery power. It cost $935 to build and was funded by donations from Washington Water Power, Inland Power and Light, and the Ferris associated student body. Interstate Battery donated two 12-volt car batteries and the trio scrounged scrap material from the school metal shop - including empty soft drink cans.
The soft drink cans were molded into dissipating towers. “They make people go ‘Wow! That’s sort of neat,”’ Ruhl said.
Powell and Keller plan to attend Washington State University in the fall. Both will be able to use the knowledge they gained from the project. Powell hopes to study engineering and Keller architecture.
Ruhl plans to study engineering at Boston University.