Taking Charge

Students build and race Evs at co-op event

SVEC President and CEO Greg Rogers waves a checkered flag at the end of the first of 2 30-minute sessions that tested electric vehicles’ battery life.

Pick a number, any number, and it might put you on track to victory.

That was Millbrook High School’s thinking behind naming its entry “Jackpot” with Number 777 for the inaugural Shenandoah Valley Electric Vehicle Grand Prix.

“We figured we needed the luck,” junior Crispin Crites said. The team was close in its assumption, placing third in the 11-school event held May 21 at SVEC’s Rockingham office. If numbering had any real impact on results, the way to go is apparently the largest road near you, as Stuarts Draft High School won, with its No. 340 car, aptly monikered for U.S. 340 that runs in front of the school.

Winning, however, was hardly the purpose of the event, held for the first time in the Valley as SVEC and Global EEE, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, partnered to organize a showcase of student-made electric vehicles. Using kits provided by Global EEE, which stands for Education, Energy and Environment, schools constructed electric vehicles for several months leading up to race day, when they battled to see which car could make the most laps over the course of two 30-minute sessions. They started with the same amount of stored energy in their batteries.

To offset costs of the kits, schools applied for grants for supplemental funding from SVEC and its wholesale energy provider, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative. Teams were also encouraged to find sponsors to cover expenses.

Joyous in victory, Stuarts Draft teacher Ben Ham was proud of his team’s performance — which dubbed itself the “Pit Crewgars” as a play off pit crew and the school mascot, Cougars — and even more satisfied in the lessons of hard work and team building it learned throughout the process.

“They made it all worth it today. To see them so excited, even the pit crew, to see them get out on the track, everybody did their job and had fun doing it,” he said.

Going 'All Out'

The grand prix gives students with diverse skillsets a hands-on chance to put their knowledge and interests to use. There’s wiring, construction, data analysis, and a touch of graphic design and marketing, as teams are advised to promote their work within their schools and communities.

“This legitimizes us as a club,” said Crites, a member of Millbrook’s Technology Student Association. “We’re a very small club. We do not get a lot of recognition. This gives us a sense of pride.”

One Millbrook student logged more than 50 hours working on the vehicle, and he was surely not alone in that time investment. A student from Sherando called the EV kits “like having IKEA instructions,” taken to mean teams were left with ample room for interpretation and creative trial and error in building the cars. The competition rules are structured to encourage innovation and to encourage students to engineer changes to the kit.

The ability to think on their feet and troubleshoot are some of the qualities students need in the competition. Ideally, in future years, schools will build EVs from scratch, without the kits.

One person who might do just that is Ryan Sprague, a freshman at Broadway High School. He says it was rewarding to see the team’s hard work pay off as its car, unofficially called “Lizard,” overcame wiring and flooring material challenges to reach the grand prix. The team went on to clock the fastest lap during qualifying, which earned it pole position and an award.

“We all made sure we were working together as one until the job got done,” Sprague said.

Stuarts Draft High School won the grand prix, finishing 60 laps. The team dubbed itself the “Pit Crewgars,” as a play off pit crew and the school mascot, the Cougars.

Working together was an inter-team feature of the event. Students from Spotswood High School showed great character and learned a valuable lesson in perseverance when their car faced a series of electromechanical failures. An electrical short in the data cable led to a chain reaction, which initially burned out their main controller and eventually damaged their wheel motor.

Instead of packing up and leaving, the team huddled and came up with a plan to repair the failures and ask William Monroe High School if they could borrow a motor. The plan worked and Spotswood managed to get the car running again just in time to join the start of the race. To no surprise, William Monroe won the sportsmanship award.

Several other awards were handed out to teams beyond those that circled the track the most. Technical innovation, sportsmanship and women in science and engineering were among the other categories.

As a group, Harrisonburg High School’s trio of Monica Espinoza, Johanna Mayfield and Emma Swartz were the women in science and engineering recipients. They impressed with their leadership throughout the process, even getting a few words in for a television interview previewing the event.

“These young women have helped to shape the trajectory, culture and organization of our team from the start,” wrote Seth Shantz, HHS technology and engineering teacher, in nominating them for the award. “I feel personally grateful that they chose to commit their time to this competition, and I think it speaks volumes for the opportunity that your organization is providing that the competition immediately drew them in and continues to engage them.”

Global EEE historically has held the grand prix in the D.C. area, including at the Air and Space Museum and National Harbor. One of the principals, retired professor Dr. Nabih Bedewi, recently moved to the Winchester area and wanted to bring this experience to students locally. As a new co-op member, he contacted SVEC and the Valley grand prix took shape from there.

The enthusiasm from students was on display during the event, as loud cheers rang out with each lap registered on the scoreboard. For Stuarts Draft to come out on top was fitting, as its excitement for the event was palpable in a promotional video it produced, which took home an award for best video. In it, Ham, the teacher, comes right out and passionately asks, “Do you want to be a part of the fastest team at Stuarts Draft High School?”

The invitation worked. And after the event concluded, and their No. 340 car was No. 1, Ham and the Pit Crewgars were all smiles.

“I hope to get more students involved next year, and hopefully more from Augusta County,” he said. “The small details, everything SVEC and Global EEE did, was amazing. You all went all out.”

11 high schools participated in the inaugural Shenandoah Valley Electric Vehicle Grand Prix in May. Teams constructed electric vehicles from kits purchased through a partnership between SVEC, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative and nonprofit Global EEE.

2022 Shenandoah Valley EV Grand Prix Participants

  • Blue Ridge Technical Center - Sherando
  • Broadway - Spotswood
  • Harrisonburg - Stuarts Draft
  • James Wood - Turner Ashby
  • Massanutten Regional Governor’s School - William Monroe
  • Millbrook