This June, when a bright red race car revs its engine at Watkins Glen International Speedway, Candor students will watch from the sidelines cheering it on, knowing they put in hundreds of hours of hard work to build the powerful machine.
The race car project, made possible with a collaboration between the Winners Circle Project, the Dyson Foundation, Candor Central School District and Candor Technology Education Teacher Stephen Lindridge, is well underway at Candor High School.
Pius Kayiira, executive chairman for the Winners Circle Project, said he wanted to find a way to reach students who didn’t necessarily want to go to college but who still need preparation for the workforce and exposure to different activities in order to find out which kind of work they are good at and enjoy.
Because Lindridge was already building go-karts in his Principles of Technology class, upgrading to a race car seemed like a natural evolution, Kayiira said.
In addition to the race car build, Candor students who are in the Winners Circle Project complete other, smaller projects throughout the school year. Most recently, they built a cob pizza oven made out of soil, sand and straw, on an outdoor site in Newfield.
The Winners Circle Project is designed to inspire young minds through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programs embedded in the exciting world of car racing. The project was made possible by a grant from the Dyson Foundation, which paid for the $40,000 kit the students will put together. The car is based loosely off of a Shelby Cobra design.
The students will be able to watch the performance-level vehicle in action at Watkins Glen racetrack in June. For a short time there is a fully-assembled, identical race car parked at the school so students and administrators can see what they are working toward.
Kayiira said there are plenty of opportunities for students to find their niche in Winners Circle.
“[Student] Cassie Howe is dependable and reliable and just so well rounded as an individual that she is literally my general manager here,” Kayiira said. “She runs so many different things and is the point person I go to. I believe in it being a student-based, student-run organization.”
“I like that he lets me be in control of things,” Howe said of Kayiira. “I like to organize the kids…and I like being that team player. I really enjoy that aspect, because I can work with people and we can figure out the problems as a team, not just me.”
Many of the students in the Winners Circle Project say that they appreciate how the program allows them to try to a variety of different things outside of the classroom that they probably wouldn’t get to experience otherwise.
“This class is not just memorizing stuff and having to regurgitate stuff on a test,” Howe said. “What you learn carries on through the whole course. You’re not just learning it for the test.”
Before any work could begin on the car, the students had to unpack 22 boxes of parts at the beginning of the school year.
“We started out by getting the car in a location where we can work on it, put it on jack stands, and started assembly two full days after the car got to us,” Lindridge said.
The students have accomplished a lot in the last few months.
“We’ve thus far put on the upper and lower control arms, coils and shockers spindles, rotors, calipers on the front end, assembled the fuel pump pickup and tank and return lines and installed the fuel take in the vehicle, added all of the sheet metal panels and riveted in place where the feet go,” said Lindridge.
“We got the front end one,” he added, “driver side foot locks where the feet go, installed a portion of the firewall, the clutch petal, the break petal the master cylinders, and the gas petal into the vehicle.” And there is still a lot to be done.
“According to the grant we’ll be done by June, but honestly I have no clue,” Lindridge said. “I’ve never built a car before.”
But he said progress has been steady. “I think we’re good,” Lindridge said. “We are far enough along, but the first time doing something is really tough.”
Already Lindridge knows that he wants to repeat the project next year (or do something similar), especially since he believes it will be much easier because he will be more familiar with the process.
It is an expensive project, but Lindridge hopes to fund it with $100 raffle tickets for the car that will be completed in June. “I want to sell only enough to pay for the next car,” Lindridge said. “I would like to make a sustaining program that is self-funded so in subsequent years we can have the same access to a vehicle built from the ground up.”
He described working “shoulder to shoulder” with the students as they figure out how to put the car together, and he said there are advantages to doing a project this way.
“I think lots of times it looks like we [teachers] know everything, when we are really reading and finding things out as we go,” he said.
He added that the students better understand that the learning process is an organic one when not everything is laid out for them, ready to be put together in the exact right way when they enter the classroom.
That is not to say that the race car won’t be well built and ready to safely drive at the end of the school year. The school district has three experts on vehicles who regularly check the work of the students and give it their approval, even after Lindridge double-checks everything as well. It is mandated to go through state safety checks, just like any vehicle, before it can drive on public roads.
“I can’t wait to see it move under its own power,” Lindridge said.
Many students are excited about the project as well, as evidenced by the 136 extra class period hours students have put into the car since the beginning of the school year. These are extra hours the students devote to working on the car outside of class time. They are not required to put in extra time, but Lindridge does give extra credit to those who do so.
Some of Lindridge’s students in ninth and tenth grade, who are not in the class that is building the car, show up outside of class to work on it, too, and Lindridge gives them extra credit for their classes as well.
The class is not just putting together the race car, Lindridge clarified; there are very specific lessons in physics the students are mandated to learn as well. Part of the class time is spent in a classroom setting, and the rest is spent in “lab” classes, where students do the hands-on work.
“It’s putting our knowledge to use,” said Liam Lang, 15, a 10th-grader at Candor High School. “Knowledge isn’t power—it’s the execution of knowledge that is power. You can learn torque and all these things, but unless you apply it, it doesn’t actually stick.”