Twenty years ago, at the first Solar Car Races, fewer than 30 students competed with their solar car creations in the parking lot of the Northside Activity Center.
A San Antonio Express-News story chronicling the first event noted that founder Bobby Blount “used the Internet to find other schools with similar programs and invited them to the competition.” Technology has certainly evolved since then, and this year several of the student-designed cars are even incorporating 3D-printing technology.
While the Texas Solar Race Car Event in Northside ISD has grown exponentially in size over the last two decades, the races continue to be a culminating event for students who have worked for weeks designing and building miniature solar-powered cars. More than 1,000 students are expected on the 20th annual Race Day, which is Saturday, April 30 at Gustafson Stadium, 7001 Culebra.
The event is free and open to the public. Gates open at 8 a.m. The opening ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. and the races run from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Around 320 elementary teams will compete with three or four students on each team. Approximately 72 Northside schools will participate along with competitors from other school districts. After preliminary heats, quarterfinals, semifinals, and a final race, awards will be handed out to the top eight teams.
Though these are solar car races, there are no worries if the sun doesn’t shine – the cars also have battery-power as a backup.
Northside School Board Trustee Bobby Blount is the long-time organizer of the event, which started as a mentorship project at Rayburn Middle School to give students hands-on lessons in teamwork, renewable energy, problem-solving, and science and engineering.
“I love seeing the students’ excitement as they compete,” says Blount. “This is a real-life problem for teams to solve and it’s important that students see science and math as fun. These races help do just that.”
Solar cars is an afterschool science program for fourth and fifth grade students. They are provided a solar panel, gear box, and axle rods but the rest of the car design is up to them. In addition to learning about teamwork, students are also developing their engineering skills through the design and testing process.
“It’s really fun but it’s a really long process when you’re dealing with a 3D printer,” says Stephanie Gonzales, a 5th grader at Michael ES, whose team is using the printer to make a chassis for their car. “I think it’s going to be an advantage because it’s really light and I think we’ll have a cool car.”
Sponsors for this year’s event are Northside Elementary Science Department, the Northside Education Foundation, the MITRE Corporation, the National Defense Education Program, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Cryptologic, and Cyber Systems Division, Raising Cane’s and International Mechanical Services.
Artwork by Taft HS sophomore Angelique Mendoza.