- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

BENKELMAN, Neb. (AP) - The boys have tweaked the standard gear ratios, and they’ve figured out how to get the throttle to work better.

“It’s going 30 miles an hour now,” says a smiling Bill Wilson, sponsor of Dundy County-Stratton High School’s first-ever electric vehicle competition team.

The “Power Drive” electric car program, sponsored since 1998 by the Nebraska Public Power District and Omaha Public Power District, gives high school students hands-on experience in a challenge to design and build a safe, energy-efficient one-person electric vehicle.

In the spring, teams of high school students from across the state compete in vehicle braking, maneuverability and endurance divisions at organized rallies.

OPPD and NPPD officials stress that the Power Drive is designed to be a learning experience for students. Therefore, students are given as much responsibility as possible in the design, construction, maintenance and operation of the vehicle.

Wilson, at DCS, told the McCook Daily Gazette (http://bit.ly/1knuoLL) that first-time schools buy “starter kits” (of such components as the motor, electric control box and throttle) and the program provides mentors and technical support to the teams when needed.

While each team starts with the same basic package, it’s up to the students whether they want to modify it for more power and endurance. “You can tweak the standard gears ratios,” Wilson said. But, he warned, set them too high and the car uses up battery power. Too low and the car won’t make enough laps to be competitive.

The goal of the endurance division, Wilson said, is to see how far the car can go, how many laps it can complete, in one hour.

In DCS’s first rally, in Lincoln, the team competed in the “Novice” division (along with several “Standard” division cars), and completed 23 full laps in the one-hour endurance competition. At the end of the hour, five of 18 teams were still going, “and our team was one of the five,” Wilson said. “For our first race, and our first year, that was pretty successful,” he said.

In Lincoln, one car completed 70 laps in an hour; its fastest single lap was 46 seconds, and it averaged 31 miles an hour.

OPPD’s 2014 rally schedule includes UNL, April 5; Hastings Motorsports Park, April 12; Grand Island Law Enforcement Training Center, April 19; West Point Cuming County Fairgrounds, April 26; and the championship, May 3, at Werner Park, LaVista.

The DCS team will compete in the state championship.

Wilson said the team has gotten a lot of support for the project, with donations from individuals, from the Hester Foundation and Hansen Foundation, and from AmFirst Bank and BWTelCom. The kids have sold concessions and conducted fundraisers. Proceeds have been used to purchase the kit and the mirrors, tires and gel battery. “We welcome donations to help support the students’ project,” Wilson said.

DCS team members are Mitchell Shillington, Kyle Newcomb, Marcus Fox, Trinity Lutz, Tyrell Reichert, Trevor Jensen, Keeley Confer and Jared Crouse. Sponsors are Wilson, Ben Killingsworth, Nathan Behlke and Kris Freeland.

Wilson’s wife, Kim, sponsors a similar Power Drive program at Chase County High School in Imperial.

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Information from: McCook Daily Gazette, http://www.mccookgazette.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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