High Plains Rally features high school students racing electric cars

On your mark, get set, go! Spectators would expect to hear an engine revving up to these familiar words, but the power behind the cars at Fort Hays State University's 2007 High Plains Rally were no louder than a soft whisper. That's because these special cars are powered by battery and can have added features such as solar panels.

Eight high school teams from Kansas and one from Nebraska competed Oct. 18 at a quarter-mile course sectioned off by hay bales and orange highway cones in West Frontier Park in Hays. Each team selected a driver to navigate the course, one person to serve as a spotter, a lap counter to record specific times and a group to serve as the pit crew. The students communicated with one another through hand-held radios. The team to make the most laps in one hour wins in a points system.

First place in the standard race went to North Platte High School, North Platte, Neb. Second and third places went to Scott County High School, Scott City.

Scott City teams placed first and third in the experimental race, which allows teams to test out special motors, controllers or solar arrays. Second place went to Ulysses High School. In the past four years, Wheatland High School, Grainfield, has been undefeated, but this year it received the team spirit award because of the positive way team members responded to their car going off the track. Other schools included Great Bend High School, St. John High School, Lucas-Luray High School, Hays High School and La Crosse High School.

"This event isn't about whether you placed first or second, but it's about what you learned from this program," said Dennis Deines, Western Electric Cooperative Association Inc.

"This is my seventh year helping with the event and it is the ninth year overall," said Dr. Robert Howell, associate professor of technology studies. "All of the cars have to meet regulation. Safety is our first priority. There are always minor wrecks. Sometimes drivers get a wheel off track, and I've even seen students run their cars into a tree."

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All of the cars have to pass strict inspections, including exact dimensions and battery regulations. Drivers must undergo vision, vehicle and electrical inspection. The cars can reach up to 30 mph. An ambulance is on site to insure the safety of the participants, and multiple volunteers are present.

This is the third year for the race to be held in Frontier Park, but in the past the race was in the parking lot of Gross Memorial Coliseum at Fort Hays State University.

"I've helped with this event in the past and it takes a lot of work and dedication from the teams," said Rebecca Applebee, Topeka, FHSU junior. "For some it takes years to actually build the car and then have the opportunity to race it."

Sponsors were Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, Hays; Midwest Energy Inc., Hays; Pioneer Electric Cooperative Inc., Ulysses; Victory Electric Cooperative Association Inc., Victoria; Prairie Land Electric Cooperative Inc., Norton; and Western Electric Cooperative Association Inc., WaKeeney. These sponsors helped count and tally the laps and provided breakfast and lunch for participants and volunteers.

FHSU students who participated are listed by hometown.

ABILENE: Steven Sare, sophomore.
BEDFORD, Iowa: Colby Lenhart, sophomore.
CIMARRON: Joe Hornung, senior.
ELLINWOOD: Jacob McCormich, sophomore.
ELLIS: Casey Swindler, junior.
HAYS: Dennis Craven, sophomore.
HOLLY, Colo.: Lyndon Wagner, senior.
HUTCHINSON: Brad Harmony, junior, and Mitchell Burns, sophomore.
LA CROSSE: Norman Conard, special undergraduate, and Mark Renfrow, sophomore.
LIBERAL: Alfonso Caballero, senior.
SCOTT CITY: Nick Speer, junior.
SENECA: Ryan Gress, freshman.

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Kent Steward, Director   |  ksteward@fhsu.edu  |  Kurt Beyers, Assistant Director   |  kbeyers@fhsu.edu