There was a distinct air of NASCAR resonating from the Lower Richland High School gym Friday.
As their miniature race cars spun, turned and bumped their way across the gym floor track, an eager group of students looked on intently with hand-held remotes as scores of classmates cheered them on.
The Richland 1 school was the setting for the 2014 Carolina Invitational, a regional remote-controlled car care competition. The event was sponsored by TEN80 National STEM League – a professional organization that encourages students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math – and featured seven motor sports teams from across South Carolina and North Carolina.
“This is where they showcase what they have been learning,” said David Priggie, Richland 1’s program consultant for career and technology education.
Participation in the motor sports program is twofold, Priggie explained.
Students first must learn to build their own cars – beginning with a predesigned chassis kit that includes a battery and charger – before interchanging individual car parts including frames, suspension systems, gears and tires. Once at a competition, students race to test the endurance, design and maneuverability of their cars and compete in a “pit stop” event that rates how quickly and effectively they can replace a car’s battery and four tires.
“It’s hands-on and it’s real world,” Priggie said, adding the program helps develop skills in physics, math and team building. “They are learning STEM without even knowing it and they are having fun doing it.”
Lower Richland senior Isaiah Murphy said his involvement in the program has cemented his desire to become an engineer, adding he’s gained a new respect for the skills needed to get the various car parts to work together. “I really enjoy racing cars,” he said.
For many, the competitive events represent the final lap in a long learning process.
“The kids absolutely love the engineering, creating a (car) body from scratch,” said Pleasant Hill Middle School motor sports adviser Stacy Rozonkiewiecz.
Lower Richland was one of several sites chosen as a regional remote control competition site, welcoming nearly 100 students Friday. The regional winners will compete in the national finals in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway.