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Guys plus cars: An educational equation

Although the terms “Ten80” and “NASCAR STEM Initiative” may sound unattractive or even nerdlike to some, for five students at Boulder City High School, the bottom line is guys and cars, with science added in for good measure.

Conner Armstrong, Jarid Bell, Teagan Smale, Weston Little and Dylan Amico, along with auto shop teacher Rodney Ball and science teacher Charlene Wiesenborn, are wrapped up in the Ten80 Student Racing Challenge: NASCAR STEM Initiative, described on the challenge website as “project based learning that doesn’t forget the learning.” The term STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The students not only enjoy science and auto shop classes, but through this racing experience they’re learning other life skills: public speaking, marketing, fundraising and teamwork. All of these elements are part of the racing challenge for the Boulder City High School students.

According to the racing challenge website, the experience is designed to teach the students how to create their team “in ways that mirror business and marketing executives, engineers, technicians, green transportation designers and professional sports teams.”

Through the program, students learn to optimize performance of a radio-controlled race car that is a 1:10 scale version of a NASCAR stock car to become certified in race engineering, according to the initiative’s website. Once certified, they collaborate, create and compete in project categories that include robotics, engineering design and fabrication, creative engineering and innovation and sustainable transportation through renewable energies.

Students earn points for every qualifying activity in a yearlong Web-based race. Teams earn a spot at finals by winning a regional event or qualifying through the national points race.

On Feb. 22, the Boulder City team qualified to participate in the national finals in Charlotte, N.C., May 16-17, based on cumulative points they earned since late in 2013. The final step is going out into the community and raising the money to pay for the trip.

The student racing challenge was made possible, according to Ball, through a grant from the Youth Education Service through the U.S. Army and NASCAR.

All the students agreed they have a love of auto shop and when Ball announced there was going to be a NASCAR team organized for students, they were eager to join. Because of this racing challenge, they also are enjoying science classes.

Each member of the racing team is responsible for different aspects of the race as well as different portions of the entire project.

Bell made the car body design and obtained local sponsorships. Smale worked with suspension and tires. Little does most of the driving and helped Smale with his tasks. Armstrong pitches in to drive the car and works the pits. Amico is the “speech person” of the crew and works on marketing.

Even though the car the team is racing may be a tiny version of a NASCAR entry, the guys “run it as NASCAR,” Smale said. “We make adjustments to the car; we race the car; we do the graphic design part of the car.”

They also have to figure out how long the car battery will last during a 30-minute race and make sure it is near the pit when the time comes to change the battery. The team learned this quickly during an early race, and knows the car battery needs changing three times during a race.

Ball said the team will be hosting a night race at the high school in April, where the community will be able to see what the racing challenge looks like.

When asked what they would win should they take first place in the national finals, the team members didn’t have a ready answer. They are focused on racing and learning and having a great time doing both.

To help send the crew to the National Finals, contact Rodney Ball or Charlene Wiesenborn at Boulder City High School, 702-799-8200.

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