Race Day 4: The Finish Line Is In Sight

Featured, General, Outreach, Solar, Structures, Texas / Friday, August 27th, 2021

Waking up at 5:45 a.m. is never easy. But especially for a group of highschoolers who have fought jet lag, the intense Texas heat, and the accumulating fatigue after a week of solar car racing. Usually, we were practically dragging each other out of bed to arrive at the speedway on time, yet Race Day 4 was different. Everyone was out of bed early, surrounded around the kitchen table with an eerie quietness. Knees bounced up and down, waiting for the ‘GO’ to load up the cars. At this stage in the race we were 4 laps out of first place, and the Iron Lions were putting up an extraordinary fight. We would receive the final ruling of the 5 lap penalty protest before the morning meeting; an incredibly influential moment for our future of the race. The data acquisition system continued to fail within the first hour of use throughout the race, and was deemed unfixable until our return to Seattle. In addition, our mentor had been rushed to the Emergency Room from heat exhaustion the day before, and would be unable to continue for the rest of the duration of the race. There were so many challenges to work through, but we were all ready to perform at our best. I know as we sat at the kitchen table, in the back of our minds we felt the pressure, knowing that everything we had ever worked for would come down to the day ahead of us. 

We arrived at the Texas Motor Speedway for the last time. We were half asleep on the ride over, but at the stroke of 6:30 a.m. we were ‘running’(we are not proud of our running penalties, but we understand that every minute in the morning is critical) in order to get the car out to charge, complete the judge’s Pre-Race Safety Check, and prepare La Cucaracha for its final flight. In the time to spare, the team anxiously awaited the results of the protested penalty for “failure to comply with the mandatory 30-minute lunch for advanced division teams”, a 5 lap penalty awarded on Day 3. At nearly 7:30 a.m. Solar Car Challenge Foundation President and Race Director Dr. Lehman Marks arrived to deliver the news. While Teddie Blahous [11], Joseph Nwizgubo [12], and Maya Peña [11] presented a collegiate level appeal, Dr. Marks informed us that we did not receive our 5 laps back because of the violation of the time constraint. But the Foundation returned our $50 protest fee and declared that we influenced a critical rule clarification for the next track race in 2023. The team was not stoked about the news, but we were all so proud of Teddie, Joseph, and Maya for taking the team onto their back and stepping up to the challenge. We shifted our focus back to the elements that we could control which included refining the driver line up, scheduled driver changes, and race strategy. By 8:00 a.m. team spirits were lifted as the team received a trophy for winning Day 3 with 186 laps on the day (A new track record!). We regained our full confidence, and lined up for launch. 

Team Captain Alexis Lee [10] receives team trophy for most laps on the Third Racing Day

La Cucaracha launched exactly at 9:00 a.m. and the team took their positions either in the team condo, or on Pit Lane. By the fourth day of racing we had become a well oiled machine. 

Team Captain Hai Lin Truman [10] briefs the first driver of the day Nigel Barnett [12] on starting procedures prior to launch

We had hammered down everyone’s roles, expectations, and responsibilities. Knees continued to bounce up and down. As the team began to pull ahead in the standings, we watched our hard work pay off. Things finally seemed to be going our way. The car was performing beautifully, our strategy team (or commonly referred to as the ‘gods’ above) was firing on all cylinders, and our supporters and chaperones were full of team spirit. The energy and excitement in the pit was rising as the 4:00 p.m. race neared. 

Joseph Nwizgubo [12] brought the car home, and rolled La Cucaracha down pit lane. It rolled extremely slowly. Which could be attributed to the near perfection of our strategy team’s race plan to completely (and safely) drain our battery. The car turned the corner, the team safely maneuvered the car to safety. The cockpit flew open, and the celebration had begun. The team burst into cheer and into hugs and high-fives.

We did it.

Teams from across the Garage, from varying divisions came by to congratulate the team. So many of our competitors expressed how inspired they were by the team and our car. It was such a humbling experience. There is a great competitive nature when it comes to solar car racing, much greater than that. We learned to make great friendships and connections with high school students across the nation. 

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