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Alabama High School Students Get Accelerated Learning At Barber Motorsports Park


Post by Gilbert Nicholson for Alabama NewsCenter

Cars were racing fast and furious at the Barber Motorsports Park April 4 – even before the IndyCar drivers started practice.

It was the annual Education Event, where 150 students from five high schools partner with Alabama Power engineers to build and race miniature Pinewood Derby cars down a 20-foot slide.

Before the competition, they heard from Zach Veach, an IndyCar driver with Andretti Autosport, on the use of math and science in racing.

The Education Event coincides with the annual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama every April. High schools attending this year included LeedsAnniston CityPell CityHewitt-Trussville and St. Clair County.

“For some of these kids, it’s the first opportunity they’ve had to get out and see why math and science are so important,” said Leeds High counselor Lisa Hudson. “It’s also a chance to see the skills used from what they are learning.”

While Leeds doesn’t have an engineering academy, Hudson brought students expressing interest in the profession and auto mechanics.

The race had a somber tone for the Pell City team, whose No. 14 car represented the football jersey of ninth-grader Kaden Johnson. Johnson died over spring break March 26 in a traffic accident in the Florida Panhandle. The car also bore his nickname “Tater.”

Leeds, meanwhile, won the playoff race with a bit of ingenuity.

“We had some extra glue bottles on the table, so we decided to create added weight by pouring on extra glue,” said Leeds senior David Watkins.

Watkins learned from Veach’s presentation that many aspects of a race car are monitored by computers, and how they play such a pivotal role on race day.

As for building the winning derby car, “I learned I break stuff a lot. But you have to learn to think about how to fix it,” Watkins said, noting he broke more than one wheel, but the car won a playoff with only three wheels anyway.

“Our objective is to help kids start the process of thinking through and considering what they want to do from a career-preparation standpoint,” said master of ceremonies Robin White, a Marketing specialist with Alabama Power. “And we’re always looking for good employees for our own organization.”

White and Alabama Power engineers will be back at Barber’s April 15 to handle the same duties at the annual Electrathon, where homemade battery-powered cars from high schools and colleges in the South race on the big track.

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