The cross-country solar car race from DFW to Los Angeles County started in Justin, Texas on July 16 in the rain. Photo by J.G. Domke.

July 26, 2023

The cross-country solar car race that was supposed to finish in Los Angeles County, came to an early end in El Paso last week.

The 30th annual Solar Car Challenge kicked off on a rainy morning on July 16 in Justin, near the Texas Motor Speedway.

Twenty high school teams from around the country headed out in what was to be a 1,400-mile trek across the Southwest.

The teams were prepared to endure breakdowns, detours and extreme weather conditions — namely the record-breaking hot temps.

A solar car heads out from Justin, Texas. Photo by J.G. Domke.A solar car heads out from Justin, Texas on July 16. Photo by J.G. Domke.

But on the third day of the week-long race, some race judges were complaining of stuffy noses, congestion and fatigue, according to Plano-based race director Dr. Lehman Marks.

By late Tuesday afternoon, more people reported feeling ill and EMTs traveling with the group performed COVID tests as a precaution.

“We were shocked to find 14 staff members testing positive,” said Marks. 

Several teams were also showing early symptoms.

“By Tuesday evening, I made the tough decision to cancel the race and send everyone home,” said Marks. 

In 30 years, this was the first time the event was canceled, including during the pandemic.

It turned out to be a good call. Within 48 hours, nearly 60 percent of the staff and three teams reported COVID.

A solar car driver prepares to head out from Justin, Texas. Photo by J.G. Domke.A solar car driver prepares to head out from Justin, Texas. Photo by J.G. Domke.

While the abrupt end was an initial shock, the solar race organizer looked on the bright side.

“Everyone had a great learning experience during the three days of ‘Scrutineering’ (qualifying),” said Marks. “The students had three glorious days of racing from Fort Worth to El Paso (490.1 miles). They endured heat up to 113 degrees and everyone had a great deal of fun, and enjoyed the camaraderie of the other teams.”

Despite, the early end, awards were still given out. The winners were decided based on the miles accrued over the three days of racing, instead for the entire race.  

The winner of the Classic Division, the basic category, was the Okemos Racing Club from Okemos, Mich, which logged in 227 miles.

The winner of the Advanced Classic, a division for more experienced teams, went to local team Covenant Christian Academy from Colleyville, which covered 457 miles.

The winner of the Advanced Division, for more experimental vehicles, was from another North Texas school — the Greenville High School team with 432 miles.

The Electric Solar Powered Division, for two-seaters powered by a stationary power station, was Heroes’ Alliance Vehicle Technology Team from Detroit, Mich. with 201 miles.

“As far as I am concerned, we accomplished our education mission,” said Marks. “Yes, we were disappointed we were not able to continue on to Palmdale, but it was more important to protect the health of everyone.”

Each team was required to have support vehicle. Photo by J.G. Domke.A support car with team members lines up behind a solar car. Photo by J.G. Domke.


Cross-country solar car race rolls out Sunday from DFW

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