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Local schools race solar-powered model cars
Dustin Hulsey of Banks County Middle School watches as his solar-powered model car heads down the track on a test run during the Junior Solar Sprint Competition Friday at Lanier National Speedway. The card in Dustin’s hand covers the solar panel and is quickly lifted to start the car. - photo by Tom Reed

2010 Junior Solar Sprint Competition winners

1st place: Banks County Middle School
2nd place: Chestatee Middle School
3rd place: West Hall Middle School

1st place: North Hall Middle School
2nd place: Kings Bridge Middle School
3rd place: Banks County Middle School

BRASELTON — Lanier National Speedway normally packs its race calendar with high-octane events, but on Friday, the track welcomed a new style of racing.

Twelve area middle schools gathered inside the arena for the second annual Junior Solar Sprint Competition, held by Jackson Electric Membership Corp.

“It gives kids a hands-on tool for what they’re already being taught in the classroom,” said Kay Parks, Jackson EMC community relations representative. “What I hope they learn from it is alternative ways for energy, whether it be sun or wind, (because) it’s going to take all of these other types of renewable energy for us to keep up with the pace that the world is growing.”

Each team was given a solar photovoltaic cell, which converts the sun’s energy into electricity, and a motor to build their cars. In head-to-head races, students stood at the end of a 65-foot wooden track, holding a sheet over their car’s solar panel until an announcer yelled ‘go.’.

Glen Lawson, a physical science teacher at Chestatee Middle, brought three students to the competition. Lawson said his class split into three teams and each built a car. Students then held a race earlier in the week to determine who would advance to Friday’s competition.

Eighth-graders Carter Groves, 13, Michael Leanos, 14, and Kyle Truett, 14, won that race.

“I didn’t even think we’d even make it here because all the groups were saying ‘your car sucks,’” Groves said. “And we ended up winning.”

The trio said it took them only four days to finish the car. Their work paid off, though, with Chestatee winning second place in the speed/performance category at Friday’s event.

Lawson said the project not only helped his students apply lessons learned in class, but also offered them a glimpse into an emerging technology.

“Alternative energy is something that’s new, but it’s going to be very important in their generation,” he said.

The team from West Hall Middle School placed third in Friday’s race.

Sara Smith, a math teacher and adviser for the school’s environmental science club, said the experience ties into the club’s mission as well as students’ class work.

“We try to promote making environmentally sound decisions,” Smith said. “We have a rain barrel we put out, we feed the local birds and we try to make everything more sound for the environment around here.”

As North Hall Middle discovered, the entire process is definitely a learning experience.

Eight of the 12 schools, including North Hall and West Hall, competed in Jackson EMC’s inaugural solar-powered car competition last year.

This time around, North Hall’s team agreed they had one goal in mind.

“(We want to) have the car move,” said eighth-grader Stephanie Armour, 14, as her three teammates laughed.

“Last year, our car fell apart so (we want to) make it go all the way down the track this year,” teammate Matt Bain, 14, added.

This time, it did.

Parks said with each competition, Jackson EMC hopes to expand the project into more schools in its service territory.

Staff writer Melissa Weinman contributed to this report.