Student Built Electric Dragster Sets Records

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MUSKEGON, Mich. — Tell Al Thomas his electric dragster looks humble, and it doesn’t faze him. He has been working on cars and teaching auto technology long enough to know better.

The humble looking “Short Circuit,” he points out, is “the fastest 192-volt vehicle in the world.”

That’s no empty boast. The car, built by students at Muskegon Community College, is the official record holder, established only a few weeks ago on a run at Milan Dragway in Milan, Mich.

“We set the record at 12.3 seconds and 109 miles an hour,” Al says. “The car will go much faster. These records were set under adverse conditions: 40 degrees, tires were cold. It slipped the tires for the first hundred feet.”

The Short Circuit has been setting records for the last couple of years, starting with a 48-volt power system record. That has been a goal for the Automotive Technology program that Al heads at MCC: find records that are achievable and move up the electric dragster food chain.

The car is the product of students of the MCC program, and not just in car tech. “everything from bending the tubing and welding it to wiring the thing and machining parts,” says Al, “our whole technical department is involved.”

Add to that group Jeff Montella, an adjunct instructor in the auto tech program at MCC and a racer. He drives the Short Circuit. “I’ve got 30 years of racing experience in a broad range of vehicles,” he says, “including cars, truck, motorcycles, ATVs, and now I can add the electric dragster to that list.” Montella was tapped to drive instead of students.

“The car is surprisingly stable at well over a hundred miles an hour,” Jeff says. “What’s unique about the electric vehicles is their initial acceleration far exceeds anything that you would see in a conventionally powered, internal combustion car.” To put it another way, all the power the car has is applied right at the starting line.

And, yes, electric dragsters burn rubber.

Setting the record “was an awesome feeling,” Jeff says. “The car is surprisingly stable at well over a hundred miles an hour.” But the biggest challenge was still keeping the car straight going down the quarter-mile track.

The garage at MCC’s auto shop is an indication of the explosion of alternative fuels in cars and trucks. Students can work on gas-powered vehicles, but there’s a biodiesel pickup, an ethanol Mustang, and another dragster, “White Lightning,” that also runs on ethanol. Students are able to choose which fuel they want to work with.

If they choose electric, they get into a field where the competition is fierce but friendly. Liquid-fuel racers tend to be secretive, says Al, but electric motor heads tend to share their information, ideas, and inspiration.

And setting records has gotten attention for the auto tech program at MCC. A few sponsors have begun to pay attention, and Shawn Lawless of Lawless Industries donated a powerful electric motor even though he himself races electric cars and motorcycles.

Right now, Al is working on a tire sponsor.

Meanwhile, the whole crew is looking forward to spring and raising the bar.

“For a community college with limited resources, we’ve done real well,” says Al. “And the students have really put together an amazing effort here.”

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