What began as a “cool class project” has become the center of attention for the electric drag racing world.
Bothell High auto shop teacher Patrick McCue and his students hatched the idea of building an electric drag car using an AC motor in 2014. The project was one of the first in the world, and remains the only such car the the United States.
Shock and Awe, the car built at the Northshore Automotive Technology center at Bothell High School, and by students from around Northshore School District, set a world record on Sept. 16 in Woodburn, Ore.
The car ran a quarter mile in 8.328 seconds and reached a top speed of 166.29 miles per hour — the fastest time ever officially recorded in the Extreme Street division. By top speed, Shock and Awe ranks as the fourth-fastest electric drag car in history.
“What we’ve accomplished from this project is wildly mind-blowing, especially since it’s a high school-based project,” said Bothell High School senior Brandy Moore. “I don’t think it can get much better than this.”
Moore is one of dozens of students to have worked on the project, which is a continuation of McCue’s efforts to introduce students to alternative fuels. The program converted a BMW M-3 into an electric vehicle several years ago, which led to a sizable grant from Foundry10 and a partnership with Hancock and Lane Racing.
The students researched the differences between DC and AC power — namely that DC motors are less reliable and fail far more often. Students presented two different projects to Foundry10, which provided a majority of the money to get the AC project underway.
Midway through the 2014 school year, the chassis had arrived with a ton of work to do. Students took part in everything from cosmetic work on the exterior to helping construct the battery packs and fitting the pieces of the engine together.
“There’s a ton of student work there,” McCue said. “There’s not a single part on the car that hasn’t at least been touched by a kid. Much of it has been designed by myself or adult mentors, but executed by kids.”
The first run was a bit of a blind test.
“We ran at 20 percent power, and had a big smokey burnout,” McCue said. “Then we ran a 17-second run at 20 percent power. When we went up to 40 percent power, it was 12-something seconds and that’s getting to be fast.”
For reference, that’s what a brand-new Ford Mustang will get you.
Near 60 percent power, the car broke into the 11-second range. At 85 percent, it was a nine-second car.
But a project built from the ground up is bound to have bumps.
“We started turning up the power to 70 percent or higher, and when we were launching the rear tires would bounce,” said Inglemoor senior Jared Troy. “The whole rear part of the car would bounce — tire hop. It slows down your start which really slows down the second half of the track time.”
Students have a hand on race days as well, acting as the crew and prepping the car for runs or even strapping on a headset and guiding the car into place. The students are always on the sidelines for races, and play a role in diagnosing problems.
With the issues fixed, McCue was finally ready for full-throttle on Sept. 16.
Shock and Awe’s first run at 100-percent produced a world record, setting a time worthy of respect.
“I think that moment, breaking the world record, is going to have more people accept us in the drag racing community,” said Woodinville High School senior Nathan Schuler.
“The culture of drag racing has always been loud,” Schuler said. “If it’s loud, it should be fast. When you bring something that’s completely silent, it’s a big change.”
Moore, who said she hopes to build a career and break the stigma of females in the auto industry, said the response from racing fans has been split.
“You’ll either have the people who are totally cool with it and want to know everything about it, and then there are the people that are like, ‘Electrics and automobiles? No,’” she said.
Many of the students who worked on the car said they planned to include electric vehicles in their future, if they were to stick with autos.
“I don’t know what I want to do yet, but it’s definitely opened up a whole new avenue of working on cars,” Schuler said. “Before this, I thought I’d be something like a diesel mechanic and work on semis, but working on this and listening to McCue, I’ve learned that electric cars are really the future. There aren’t as many trained professionals, so if you get into it now you’ll pretty quickly be more experienced than most.”
Woodinville senior Ozzy Beltran, the president of McCue’s after-school Skills USA club, said he is glad to have something so eye-catching on his resume.
“I felt like my work and my dedication toward the race car actually helped beat the world record,” he said. “Even through my mentors were there to help me, I couldn’t believe I was working on a race car and have it beat a world record.”
Inglemoor junior Andrew Burden said he hasn’t been around the drag car for long, but it’s been fun to take part.
“From having some bumps in the road to dropping the transmission, and then finally getting it to run at 100 percent was just crazy,” he said. “Words can’t really describe it.”
For all the glee surrounding Shock and Awe’s record run in September, there’s not much room for improvement. The car is limited by the batteries, and a drop in time isn’t likely unless the car gets an electric overhaul.
“I don’t need to be the absolute fastest car in the world,” McCue said. “That’s not the purpose of this class experiment. It’s to choose to do AC over anything else, and then prove its reliability. Our motors have close to 50 drag races, maybe 60, without a single motor or controller failure.”
McCue said, had the class gone with a DC motor, they likely would have blown several motors by this point.
The world record is just icing on the cake.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said, quietly, flashing a smile. “It’s a ridiculous feeling, for me personally. I’m struggling to keep my composure about it and really force myself not to come off too pompous. It’s huge. It’s really huge.”