The 30th annual Solar Car Challenge starts in Justin, near Texas Motor Speedway, on Sunday, and ends in Los Angeles County on July 23. Above, a sleek space-age solar-powered car built by Saint Thomas Academy in Minnesota is one of the unique entries seen in the competition over the years.
June 14, 2023
The hot July heatwave has kept many people indoors. But some ambitious teens from across the U.S. say it's the perfect time for a road trip.
Especially, if your ride runs on the sun.
This year’s Solar Car Challenge will feature teams from Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Courtesy of Solar Car Challenge.
The teens designed, engineered and built their own solar-powered vehicles for the 1,400-mile trek.
The Solar Car Challenge, established in 1993 by former teacher Dr. Lehman Marks of Plano, was created to help motivate students in the fields of science, technology and alternative energy.
For each of the teams, the race is the culmination of two to three years of planning and tinkering to bring their original ideas to life.
“This is the top project-based STEM program in the country,” Marks said. “We teach the kids how to build a plan, come up with a budget, fundraise, how to engineer the car and manage the project, all while they’re learning about how to harness energy from the sun to make a car go down the road.”
Before they set off on their journey, each team’s car will face “scrutineering” — evaluation by a panel of judges — at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
This year’s Solar Car Challenge will feature teams from Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
Seven North Texas teams are participating, including Fort Worth Country Day, Harmony Science Academy in Dallas, Covenant Christian Academy in Colleyville, Rock Hill High School in Frisco, Crowley High School, Greenville High School and Wylie East High School.
A solar car built by a Greenville High School team for a past race. Courtesy of Solar Car Challenge.
HITTING THE ROAD
The race ends Sunday, July 23, at the finish line in Los Angeles County, a week after the race launch.
The pace is slow as car races go. Teams must drive only above 20 mph. Most teams will average from 35 to 40 mph, Marks said.
The race is one of endurance not speed.
Teams must battle car breakdowns, weather conditions and road construction. Team experience is also a factor, Marks said. All can limit the number of miles tallied each day.
The team driving the most miles accumulated over the journey will be declared the winner.
“The cross-country race requires teams to develop really strong logistics and contingency plans,” explained Marks. “Each team will not only have their solar car driving this route, but a lead car and two chase vehicles.”
Add to that — driving across the hot Southwestern U.S. during a dangerous heat wave.
Each Team Adviser is constantly in contact with the driver for heat safety. Teams are required to change drivers three times a day.
Marks said he’s expecting a few of the cars to include air conditioning this year.
The 2023 Solar Car Challenge route. Courtesy of Solar Car Challenge.
Along the way, the teams will stop in Snyder, Texas; Carlsbad, N.M; El Paso, Texas; Florence, Ariz.; Wickenburg, Ariz. and Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Students will have opportunities to showcase their cars before the public in El Paso, Phoenix and Florence.
Marks hopes the more than 200,000 people who will see and visit the cars during their eight-day trek are inspired by the accomplishments of these students.
“My favorite moments in each race are when we interact with children in the towns we visit,” Marks said. “Watching them see themselves in these roles and seeing the spark of innovation in their eyes is why we come back year after year.”
The Greenville High School team at the 2023 Solar Car Challenge Media Day. Photo courtesy of SCC.
30th Annual Solar Car Challenge
About: The Solar Car Challenge Education Program teaches high school students how to design, engineer, build, and safely drive a roadworthy solar car. The program culiminates in a biennale cross country race from Fort Worth to Palmdale, Calif. The public is invited to attend the race start in Justin, about 25 miles north of downtown Fort Worth.
When: July 16, 2023 to July 23, 2023
Where: The race starts at 9 a.m. on July 16 at the NWISD Admin Building, 2001 Texan Drive, Justin.