What do you get when you combine the top engineering and automotive students into one class? You get the Lafayette Jefferson High School (JHS) High Mileage class, where a need for speed combines engineering and mechanical know-how to create the most efficient vehicle for the racetrack.
Students at JHS have the opportunity to apply for the High Mileage class after completing pre-requisites in either automotive or engineering. Building electric and gas-powered go-karts to high mileage vehicles, the students aren’t building your typical racecar.
Going for Efficiency
Located in Lafeyette, Indiana, the class taught by automotive technology instructor Craig Locker currently has two high mileage vehicles, the “Black Mamba” and the “Rat Rod.” The one-person vehicles are driven lying down and aren’t made to be super fast, but instead efficient. The goal is to create the most fuel-efficient vehicle possible.
“We completely designed and built the vehicle from scratch,” says TJ Brandenburg, a returning member of the class. “We try to make it as efficient as possible. It’s all about energy and gas efficiency.
“So some teams will use alternative fuel. We just use a gas-powered engine. So what we’ll do is we’ll go in, make it as light as possible to get it as efficient as possible. We tweak the engine, tweak the steering wheels, everything that we possibly can do to make it more and more efficient. And that’s just for the high mileage race.”
This year the high mileage race is in April at Lucas Oil Raceway, which is part of the nationwide Shell Eco-marathon competition. The students will have a proposal due in December for the race, which is a qualifying event for the national competition.
“We got third place last year and the year before we won state,” says Nate Franklin, a returning member and driver for the team. “And then we have the go-kart division. So it’s kind of two different races; we have the racing where you got to build a fast car and the other one is kind of the slower car, but its about miles-per- gallon, not just being fast.”
Competing against other high schools, and college students, the students from last school year’s class also competed at the Purdue Grand Prix track and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last spring with electric go-karts. Both the electric go-kart competitions and the high mileage competitions not only require the students to modify the vehicles for competition, but they must also submit a proposal about the project and vehicle.
So how do the students speed up this electric go-kart? The answer is modification. First, the students build the karts from a kit. From there, the students use their racing knowledge to figure out how much the cart weighs and cut down the weight using different aluminum thicknesses and 3-D printed materials to make the car lighter. The same kind of process is used for the high mileage vehicles, but those are independently built by the students.
“So most of the stuff we designed it on our own, it’s not just like we go out to an AutoZone and just buy the part and put it on there, we actually design it and create it. And that’s why we involved all these different people in this class. Everyone has their own job,” Franklin adds.
And while speed is what will get the team on the podium, there is a catch with the electric vehicle. There is a certain limit on the voltage on the motor that they can’t go over. So not only is engineering important, but the driver has to make sure he stays within the voltage allotted.
Students in the class combine their skills to get the vehicles going and use the class to help further their career path and spark their creativity.
“You can be as creative as you want, and you have freedoom to build a car that will help you succeed in solving problem. So really that’s why I took High Mileage, because it was a great chance at getting real engineering experience,” shares Derek Gawlik, a new member.
And while there is plenty of engineering going into the cars, none of that would be possible without the automotive students.
“My dad owns his own garage. He’s a mechanic and ever since I was young after school I would go there and he would show me, ‘Hey, look at this, this is how you do this on a car,’” adds Illia Cepeda, a new member. “Growing up that way, I’ve always just been interested in cars and building them, and I’m looking at that as a serious option for my future, and I’m taking this class as a stepping stone for that.”
On the engineering side, students are also learning how to solve problems and understand their mechanical counterparts.
“I’ve had an internship over at Caterpillar and they gave me an engineering job where I worked through all the engineering, all the theory, all the design. But, then somebody told me, ‘Hey, you can’t design it that way because you can’t build it that way.’ Now I can think about the people that are actually building it,” shares Brandon Harris, returning member.
While it’s definitely not easy building and racing the high mileage vehicles and go-karts, the skills the students learn in the class will stay with them for the rest of their careers.
“I graduated from here in 2006, and then I went to a tech school,” says Craig Locker, JHS automotive technology instructor. “This program is definitely a benefit and it’s definitely a perk to hear kids say how much they love the automotive industry, how they’re in it or they’re going to school, that they just had some amazing internship or they’re still racing.
“I usually tell my students the first couple of days it’s not work, it’s not a job. This is definitely just me sharing my passion with them and seeing them grow and take it in all these different paths. Every one of these kids I have a pretty strong feeling that they are going to be in some different capacity of automotive. Maybe it’s as a technician, or maybe they’re going to be an engineer, or maybe they’re going to be working in HR for a company, or they’re going to own a shop. I think they get a lot of different skills here and I think that allows them to branch out into a ton of different avenues.”