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Harlem STEM students win at historic Indianapolis Raceway

Posted: May 21, 2017 - 12:45am  |  Updated: May 22, 2017 - 10:17am
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Students from the Harlem High Formula 24 Race Team prepare to race their car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the Greenpower Challenge in Indiana.
Students from the Harlem High Formula 24 Race Team prepare to race their car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the Greenpower Challenge in Indiana.

When Harlem High School began assembling their first Formula 24 race car in February, they were already at a disadvantage to the 28 other schools they were competing against, by getting started months behind.

But their hard work paid off.

The school is the first in the county and the state to receive the Greenpower Grant to compete in the Greenpower Challenge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. Sponsored by the Siemens Corporation, the students were given a battery and a motor. From there it was up to the students to design the fastest car.

Fifteen Harlem High School students recently put their design to the challenge, and were successful. The team recently returned from their trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana, where they placed first in their class in the Formula 24 Advanced class and second overall.

"They didn't post where we were, so we didn't really know position wise where we were," said STEM Engineering Technology teacher David Thibodeau. "We knew we were driving consistently and the car was running consistent lap speeds and the battery seemed to be holding up fine. All of a sudden with 10 minutes left in the first race, they announced the first place team and then second place they announced Harlem."

The students traveled by charter bus to Indiana. Upon arrival, the students were able to assemble their Formula 24 race car in the speedway's garage. The next day, the students prepared to race their car with 28 other cars.

"It was really fun," said Harlem freshman Nathaniel Carrion, who actually drove the car in one heat on the raceway. "You got to drive where all the other cars drove. Saturday, they drove the cars there and they drove on the exact same track we drove on. It was really fun."

And Thibodeau said that the win has already put Harlem on the map.

"One of the teachers from the elementary school that received this same grant went to a race in Alabama and she said that she posted on a Facebook page, a thank you to the high school team, because they've put Harlem on the map, because they knew who we were," Thibodeau said.

And the team is already gearing up for next year as all of their sponsors have agreed to stay on. Thibideau said the students would pick back up on the competition in the fall.

"It will definitely put pressure on us next year to do just as well," Thibodeau said. "So it will be kind of interesting how that works out next year. They already have some races scheduled in the fall, so in the fall we will kick off again."

Sponsors for the team include Textron, Mini Mobile, Chain Reaction Bicycles and Motion Metalworks. Some, Thibodeau said may even help with designing a custom car. If so, the team will then have two cars to race with next year.

The program is an effort to expose students to mechanical engineering, which includes the potential for jobs from marketing to driving.

For Harlem Sophomore Tristen Pohlman, he is excited to continue the program next year. Pohlman, said he has autism, and that he helped design a vent to create better airflow to the motor.

"I did end up designing a vent, unfortunately we didn't have to use it because it was really cold there already," Pohlman said. "But the vent used a leaf blower that was cut at the end to help increase air flow to the motor from behind the driver's head."

Pohlman said that he hopes to graduate from college and become a mechanical engineer.

"Autistic people, we tend to want to find something to do," Pohlman said. "It's not just something to occupy our time. It's something that we are visually interested in and our hands can interact with, like a tool or a machine."

 

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