Breckenridge Texan

Solar car race makes pit stop in Breckenridge

Solar car race makes pit stop in Breckenridge
July 19
13:06 2018

Downtown Breckenridge took on a futuristic look Tuesday afternoon as 20 sun-powered cars and their support vehicles stopped in front of the Stephens County Courthouse for a pit stop in the 2018 Solar Car Challenge.

The cars, driven by high school students from around the United States, had departed from the Northwest Independent School District in Justin, just down the road from the Texas Motor Speedway, one of the event’s sponsors. The Solar Car Challenge is hosted by Texas Instruments and has many additional sponsors.

The Staten Island solar car has a futuristic design to it. Driver Brandon Amtzis said he thinks solar cars will be readily available in 30 years. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

“We’re excited to be here in Breckenridge,” said Dr. Lehman Marks, race director and president of the Solar Car Challenge Foundation, a nonprofit organization. “We always talk to the county judge and get permission to stop here. Everyone is so friendly.”

The race goes from its start in Texas to Palmdale, California, over six days. The organization holds a race every year, but the cross-country races are scheduled approximately every other year. In the alternate years, the solar cars race around the track at the Texas Motor Speedway. The race last came through Breckenridge in 2013.

The point of the cross-country race isn’t necessarily to see which car can make it to California the fastest but to see which solar car can accrue the most miles logged over the course of the race.

Each car is accompanied by a vehicle with a trailer, and the solar cars are put on the trailers from time to time; the miles traversed while the cars are trailered do not count toward their totals. There are several situations in which the cars are trailered. In some cases, the race coordinators have scheduled mandatory trailering because of dangerous driving situations. Additionally, the cars may only race between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. So, if a car has not made it to the scheduled stopping place by 5 p.m., the car must be trailered at that time and transported to the location.

“The event is about the smart use of energy, not about the kid who can floor it in the last five minutes of the race,” Marks said, explaining why the first car over the finish line may not be the winner of the race.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the education program that evolved into the Solar Car Challenge, and this year’s is the 23rd racing event.

“It’s not just about engineering and science,” Marks said. “They learn life skills, hard work, and commitment to the team. We’re in education. We’re here to improve kids’ lives. Almost every kid involved in this who puts this on their resume gets into college.”

The teams have been working on their cars for the past 15 to 18 months, said Christian Negratti, the event rules coordinator. Several of the teams use the solar cars they have used in the past and just update and upgrade them each year.

On Tuesday, Breckenridge was a mandatory 15-minute stop for the teams, the last required stop before they arrived in Snyder for the night. On Wednesday, they traveled on to Carlsbad, New Mexico, and today, Thursday, July 19, they are driving to El Paso. Friday will be a rest day in El Paso.

The cars are divided into four divisions: Classic, Advanced Classic, Advanced and Electric- Solar. Each division has specific guidelines, which can be found on the website in the Rules and Regulations, Section 10.

The first solar car to arrive in Breckenridge was the “Sundancer” from Houston, Mississippi. That team went on to log the most miles for the day in the Advanced division.

A member of the Staten Island team sprays water on the car’s solar panels located on the top of the car, which has been lifted off of the frame. In the background, other team members check over the rest of the car while several Breckenridge residents look on. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Coming into town second was the Staten Island car, another Advanced division vehicle.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” said Brandon Amtzis, who was driving the Staten Island car. “What we’re building is the car of the future.”

The recent high school graduate will be going to Cornell University in the fall. He predicts that solar cars will be readily available in 30 years.

Amtzis said the Staten Island Solar Car/Green Tech team is made up of students from three different New York high schools. The team sponsor is Charles Dazzo, who is traveling along with the team.

“Throughout the year, we meet once or twice a week for three to four hours,” Amtzis said. “But, as we get closer to competition, we may meet every day for hours at a time. It requires dedication and hard work.”

The cars aren’t air-conditioned, and the temperature was over 100 degrees Tuesday when the teams stopped in Breckenridge. Team members drank water and took a quick break before heading back on the road. The teams switch out drivers every couple or hours so that they don’t get overheated.

When the “Outlaw III,” the Coppell High School car arrived in Breckenridge, team member MacKenzie Becker explained that their car is in the Electric-Solar Powered division. While the other divisions feature cars that have the solar panels on the cars, the Electric-Solar cars are powered by batteries that are charged by the sun on a separate vehicle. When the battery in the racing car runs out of power, the team stops and changes batteries.

The Coppell High School solar car is in the Electric-Solar Powered division, and, according to a team member, is meant to be more of a real-world model. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

“Our car looks a little different,” Becker said. “The race wanted to create a division for more realistic cars. This car seats two people and has a battery pack that can be changed out. It’s a totally different strategy. This models what the real-world cars will really be like.”

Working on this year’s race is Jarrett Dunn, an officer with the U.S. Navy. He raced in the Solar Car Challenge in 1999 on Team Pegasus from South Carolina.

He said his participation in the race isn’t directly related to his current career, but it did help him decide to earn a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech University. “I manage people and problems, and the thought processes and the way of approaching problems, I learned doing this,” he said. “It’s still very applicable to what I do.”

Dunn said he has been at 12 of the races and is serving as the operations director this year.

“It’s an amazing program. There’s nothing else that matches this scale,” Dunn said. “We do the engineering and the science side, but also these cars have budgets between $40,000 and $100,000. These teams go out and fundraise that. They have to manage it. They have to find the parts and suppliers, manage getting all the parts. And then there’s designing and building a car, so it’s an epic project. I don’t think there’s very much else that matches it.”

For more details on the Solar Car Challenge, visit the website If you want to see where the cars are on the route, click on the “Live Tracker” link.

For more photos from Tuesday’s pit stop, click here to see the Breckenridge Texan’s Photo Gallery.

The Iron Lion II solar car is from Greenville, Texas. The car was one of 20 solar-powered cars vehicles that stopped in Breckenridge on Tuesday on a six-day, cross-country race to Palmdale, California. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Story by Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Driver Brandon Amtzis talks to members of the Staten Island Solar Car/Green Tech team Tuesday during a pit stop in the Solar Car Challenge. All 20 teams of high school students from around the country stopped in Breckenridge for a 15-minute break on their way to Snyder. Their final destination for the race is Palmdale, California. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)





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