High-performance car tests more than mileage

FLHS students use math, science, more in designing, building car

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

How do you best define high-performance?

With Jon Haus behind the steering wheel, students in the high school supermileage club give the driver a boost. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)

Is it in the mileage that a student-made car can achieve? Or is it in the science and math lessons that students at Forest Lake High School pool with their ability to design and fabricate the vehicle?

For seven students under the supervision of industrial technology teacher Kelly Nicholls, the final grade will be determined next week when their high-performance car runs in the Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association supermileage competition. The event will be hosted by Brainerd International Raceway on Monday and Tuesday, May 14-15.

If the early home track tests are a true indicator, the student-made four-wheel car should achieve a remarkable 450 miles per gallon.

Senior Kevin Jolicoeur will be behind the wheel on behalf of the after-school supermileage club that includes fellow students Drew Hanson, Jake Hinrichs, Jon Haus, Adam Jungwirth, Kyle Pagel and Al Holien.

The students and Nicholls have been planning, designing, fund-raising, building and finally testing the car since the club formed last fall. It marks the first time in 15 years that Forest Lake will enter the supermileage competition, this year in the stock class where all first-year schools must start. More than 60 cars are expected to test the BIR track in the MTEEA class competition next week.

“This is the best design that we came up with,” said Jolicoeur last week, looking at the sleek maroon and gold “Forest Lake Monster,” the name which students have applied to the car.

For Jolicoeur, the car and the club are something special. In addition to joining his six fellow students in the after-school project, he is applying school time through an agriculture career exploration class with the car his study topic.

The Project

Nicholls was long aware of the club activity and attended the competition in Brainerd last year and came back motivated with the idea of bringing the club back to life. He put out  the word and soon had students eager to give it a shot.

The objective of the competition is to provide IT students with a challenging project that allows practical experience in design, fabrication and testing, Nicholls said.

In an effort to increase support and promote technology education, a fuel economy competition takes place every spring. Competing students and clubs will be challenged to build a one-person, fuel efficient vehicle powered by a single cylinder four stroke cycle engine. The vehicles will run a specified course at a certain speed.

“The Forest Lake students are fabricating a real world project that directly aligns with the districts STEM initiative,” Nicholls said of the renewed emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

“It started with collaborating on design ideas, canvassing the community for sponsors, developing a set of working drawings, fabricating a car to meet competition rules with safety items that needed to be in place, testing the car while driving it around the track at Forest Lake High School, displaying the car for the student body, teaching staff and the sponsors.”

In the eight months since the club formed, Nicholls believes students have developed skills such as time management, work ethic, collaborating with team members and setting goals which are desirable traits for their future employers.

In addition to the after-school work, students fanned out in the community, seeking business sponsors to help defray costs. They were effective in the effort, collecting more than $600.

Winnick Supply, V-Dock of Forest Lake, NAPA of Forest Lake, Forest Lake Motor Sports, Jason’s Lawn & Landscape and Hinrichs Construction all chipped in. Briggs & Stratton, the engine manufacturer, is a major corporate sponsor of the statewide event.

Student Lessons

The seven students are looking forward to the BIR visit next week and the final test that will determine where their car ranks.

In test runs on the athletic stadium track, students have measured the distance driven to the amount of unleaded 87 octane unleaded fuel burned to calculate an estimated mileage of 450 miles per gallon.

At BIR next week, they will use test runs and final runs with the goal of besting the preliminary estimates.

In their school-year efforts, the students have pooled their time and talents in various areas and disciplines to reach the point where they are today.

“I was able to use all of the computer assisted drawing computer skills I learned in Mr. Rivard’s class to create a design that would be both light weight and aerodynamic,” Hinrichs said. “During the build I picked up different ways of designing that could apply to a career of engineering vehicles.”

“I enjoyed working on the car because I enjoy working with my hands,” sophomore Jungwirth said. “We learned how to work together and collaborate on an idea that is best for the  project.”

Haus said  the project enabled a number of close friends to spend time their senior year on a project they were passionate about. “This gave us real life problems that required physical action to fix, and that physical action and learning through doing stuck with me,” Haus said.

Holien said he was “iffy” about joining the club at first, but is now glad his friends encouraged him to get involved.

Jolicoeur said there were days when club members didn’t see eye-to-eye and that, too, was part of the learning process.

“The supermileage car project has given me so much insight into what skills I possess that I can use in the real world when I graduate and hit the ground running,” Jolicoeur said. “Teamwork, communication, engineering, innovation, passion and the time commitment are the key concepts of this project.

“You can’t get this kind of outstanding learning experience from a test score or academic class. Every step in the design and fabrication of this car has been a team effort.”

Teacher Nicholls also recognizes the value.

“This is a very relevant project that involved planning, organization, problem solving, and responsibility which has developed a sense of self confidence and passion in these young men,”he said.

“They want to work on the project late into the school day and even on weekends.  They have sacrificed social time with their classmates in order to complete the project. They have hands-on training with welding and metal shop equipment as well as an understanding of an internal combustion engine.”

Win or lose next week at BIR, this is far from the end of the line for the “Forest Lake Monster.” The car will be a club entry again next year and will see refinements and tweaks designed to make it more efficient. It will likely be joined by a second car next year as more students catch the fever and join the club.

The club project, Nicholls says, shows high-performance in more ways than in the making of a car that can travel 450 miles on a gallon of gasoline.