Since 2000—years before the first Teslas, Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs hit the streets—Beatrice High School has been building and racing electric cars.
It’s a part of Power Drive, an electric vehicle construction and racing project in which high school students from across the state compete.
They might not have the most money, their cars might not be the fanciest and they might not have their own wind tunnel like some schools, but the Beatrice High School Power Drive team is smart and resourceful, said Chuck Brockman, the advisor for the team. To prove it, the team has a wall inside the industrial arts building covered with dozens of trophies and plaques the school has won.
They’ve got two cars in their stable. There’s the E8 and the S6—the latter was nicknamed “the Cadillac” because of how low to the ground it rides. Both cars were built from the ground up by BHS students.
“We made this car from scratch this year,” Brockman said, pointing to the S6. “It started out as nothing but some scrap metal and pipe and square tubing.”
This year only saw two races, due to bad weather and other unforeseen events, Brockman said, but even so, the team managed to place third all around in a field of 26 competitors.
That’s huge he said, especially because they didn’t do so great at the first race in Hastings. They had some troubles around the first couple of turns, but made up for that at the West Point championship.
“We peaked at the right time,” Brockman said. “I was just hoping to get a plaque or something. We walked away with two trophies and two plaques.”
It’s a tight squeeze into the driver’s seat. A driver has to squeeze into the long, narrow car, nestled on top of three wheels.
The tires are pulled along by a chain drive, hooked to an electric engine and powered by two car batteries.
The minimum weight for a driver is 160 pounds, so if a driver weighs less than that, they have to carry sandbags or weighted plates in the car with them. There’s a weigh in before each race.
It gets claustrophobic in the driver’s seat, said driver Evan Witulski, even if you do have to swap drivers every 30 minutes or so.
Drivers are required to have a Nebraska driver’s license, which can come as a disappointment to some freshmen with dreams of racing, Brockman said. Another hindrance for a lot of students, he said, is the time commitment.
The team put in about 205 hours this year, starting in January. That’s four nights a week from 4 until 8 and then from 4 until 10 the week before the state finals.
“They've put in tremendous hours,” said Beatrice High School principal Jason Sutter. “They work on it after school and into the evenings. They give up their weekends during competition time. It's a commitment on their part and I'm positive they have a good experience with that because I've seen them in action.”
The group is made up of a mix of students who enjoy the mechanical and welding aspect of the projects, and those who do it for the math, Brockman said. It’s a group of kids who might not otherwise be working together in school.
“There's a heavy community aspect,” said Power Drive member Calvin Shuck. “You really get to know each other well.”
Power Drive is nearly a year spent building, maintaining, racing and working as the pit crew for a race car, which is kind of a unique high school experience, said team member Gus Bauman.
"You're making a vehicle," Bauman said. “You don't just get to do that.”