Dragster designers ace race

By Shelby Schroeder

School instructors put a spin on science projects.

YOUNGSTOWN — Students at Choffin Career and Technical Center received a speedy lesson in design and propulsion during the school’s annual CO2 Dragster Competition.

About 54 students from the junior and senior classes participated in the activity on applied science, which tested not only their knowledge of aerodynamics, but craft and painting skills.

“A couple years ago, the competition was between the construction and engineering students,” said Carrie Pateris, an instructor at the school and one of this year’s drag race organizers.

“Last year was the first year we opened it up to the whole school.”

Choffin is a Youngstown public school providing half-day courses to high school students and adults in fields such as construction, education, health science and manufacturing technologies.

Students in classes geared toward biotechnology and information technology now can be among the ranks of miniature dragster designers. The task seems simple on the onset: Put four wheels on a shaved piece of wood.

But Pateris’ explanation of the project revealed real brainpower is involved.

“It’s a full-on project, so the students get a problem statement, a block of wood, and have to figure it out on their own,” she said.

From there, students have a week and a half to construct the fastest designs using only three components: wood, two axles and four wheels. They began by researching winning designs on the Internet, then got to work measuring, cutting, sanding, painting and testing their models.

It’s likely that the original design won’t be perfect, students said, so there is most always modification. A small CO2 cartridge is also lodged in the same spot of each dragster’s backside to propel it.

The end of the construction and trial period resulted in Wednesday’s competition.

Gathered in a room two stories high, and surrounded by building materials and life-size house models, students lined up next to a stilted 72-foot-long race track in anticipation for their launch.

Several proud builders said they expected their dragsters to win for a variety of reasons. Some were betting on particularly unusual specifications made to their car.

“My car’s ugly, so it’s going to win,” joked 17-year-old Eliejah Belton.

But Alex Rivera, 16, whose car landed in the top spot among juniors, attributed its success to its shape and lightweight construction.

“I made mine a little lower [to the track] for aerodynamics,” said the auto collision repair student of his Batman-themed dragster.

Others cared less for their design skills, such as second-place team Iesha Tate and Sparkle Thomas, both 17, and Rickesha Fields and Janiece Woodbridge, both 17.

“The lighter it is, the faster,” Tate said, “but we also had to put a girl touch on it.”

“I bet the guys never thought us girls would come in second,” said teammate Woodbridge.

Students also were graded on the project, based on how well the models were designed within the required specifications; how practical and unique the vehicles were; and the dragsters’ level of detail and completion.

Teachers said the race proves enthralling to students every year — an instructor’s dream for a project that’s both educational and enjoyable.

Instructor Kevin Sinkele said the fastest dragsters in both the junior and senior competitions reached the laser-detected finish line in 1.2 seconds.

More than 500 high school students and 200 full-time adult students attend courses at the facility on East Wood Street.


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