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Students learn the science of speed
World Language Academy class gets firsthand lessons from Road Atlanta racers
Lee Penn, lead engineer for Robertson Racing, shows a group of World Language Academy fifth-graders the back of a race car Tuesday during a trip to Road Atlanta. The students came to learn about real-world applications of math and science in the sport of racing. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Samuel Martinez stayed home from school sick Monday, but the World Language Academy fifth-grader made sure he got better by Tuesday.

His class took a field trip to Road Atlanta to meet the mechanics and engineers behind the scenes of the 12th annual Petit Le Mans road races.

Tuesday was test day in preparation for the four days of races that run today through Saturday. The event draws world class racing teams to the Braselton track.

Two classes from the World Language Academy toured the main paddock Tuesday morning after doing research in school about hybrid race cars, measurement conversions and how to calculate the velocity of race cars tearing around the track.

“This is the best place I’ve ever been to,” Samuel said before rattling off the names of his favorite drivers. Corvette Racing team driver Johnny O’Connell topped his list.

Although the glitz and glamour gets students excited about the visit, World Language Academy fifth-grade teacher Donna Smith said it is ideas about various engineering jobs that teachers hope students take away from the experience.

“The main thing we wanted them to see is to see a real-world area where they can use their science, reading and math. We wanted them to see the different jobs they might get,” Smith said.

Academy fifth-grade teacher Veronica Guzman said the trip showed students there are many people who bring the racing event together, including publicists and Web site designers.

“Every job is important, no matter how behind the scenes they are,” she said. “It’s important for students to see it doesn’t just come up, they all need preparation and knowledge. It takes teamwork.”

Fifth-graders bombarded Drayson Racing team manager Dale White with questions: How fast do cars go on the track? Has he ever been hurt while racing?

“These cars (Tuesday) are going about 140 mph,” he said.

“Have you ever had any head injuries?” asked one student.

“Yes, yes, broken bones and all that,” White told him.

But White said he had two priorities while talking to the kids. He said he wanted to show them his United Kingdom-based team’s Lola-Judd prototype vehicle. He said the hybrid car is being built from scratch and could lay the foundation for developing new hybrid technology for future street cars.

Smith said many of her students are interested in helping the environment and were curious about how the hybrid car works.

“We also want to show being green can be cool,” White said. “Driving a fuel-efficient car doesn’t have to be boring, which I think is a big misconception in America.”

And his other priority? A sticker slapped atop the car’s slick green paint said it all: “Science: SO what? So everything.”

“Really we were trying to show how much math is involved in this with engineers and scientists, it’s not just drivers. Really we’d like to get kids more involved in science,” White said.

The race crews already have won Samuel over.

“If you want to be an engineer here or anything else you have to stay in school and go to university,” he said. “I want to go to Georgia Tech. I want to be an engineer and work on cars.”