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High mileage: Brillion students build vehicle

June 17, 2022

By David Nordby

The Brillion News

A complete version of this story appeared in the June 16, 2022 print edition of The Brillion News.

It was as rewarding of an experience for Tanner Behnke as he has had in teaching, he said.

Eight Brillion High School students worked for months on building a vehicle and getting as high of gas mileage from it as possible. Then they competed at Road America in Elkhart Lake and at Fox Valley Technical College.

“The car we made; it is part of an advanced power and energy class at the high school. What the kids do is they follow the guidelines put out by Challenge USA,” Behnke said.

The group competed at two of the events hosted by Challenge USA.

“The whole idea of Challenge USA is for kids to come up with ways to get higher mileage out of vehicles,” Behnke said.

The students research all aspects of the vehicle including power training, aerodynamics, braking and steering.

“All things that can lead to them getting higher mileage,” Behnke said.

Group members also researched steering and worked with ways to have the steering wheel and brakes weigh less while still being a fully functioning vehicle.

Eight students were in the class taught by Behnke. It started in November, they worked a couple nights a week on the vehicle and competed at Road America in April and at Fox Valley Technical College in May. The project was a lot longer than most high school efforts.

“(It was) very hard to see the end when we were working on it every day during school and multiple nights a week after school. It was fun but a lot of work and made us a close group of kids,” Reed Peter said.

“The farther we got on it, the more motivated we were to finish it,” Sam Galoff said.

“It’s really enjoyable as a teacher. Part of it is I know what the process is like. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the same thing when I was in high school, so I know it is a long time to prepare and work on a vehicle and you don’t get necessarily that reward of seeing it perform on the track,” Behnke said. “Not only just today’s society, but it’s easy to get that instant gratitude of putting effort in and seeing the results, and this is one where you put a lot of time in before you see any result.”

Behnke said they brainstorm solutions, some that don’t work, then go back to the drawing board.

“It’s a process and it’s a frustrating one for the students, but through that frustration they really make some really good gains and knowledge,” Behnke said.

“Many hours of research and design were required to get a running, functional vehicle,” Jesse Thibodeau said.

On the day of competition at Road America, Behnke says, “Murphy’s Law” where everything that could go wrong will go wrong went into effect for the team. They worked all day to try to pass the safety test facing hurdles but had to wait until the second day.

“When we had the challenge of our car not running right, we all just stepped in and went to work. The whole first day we didn’t get to drive because we needed to do a lot of adjusting but everyone knew it would be worth it because we all wanted to actually drive in the competition,” Galoff said.

On the second day, they finally passed safety and were ready to operate the vehicle for its two laps on the track.

“From the spark plug breaking off to us having to repair the welder to fix a different problem. Though it seemed like we weren't even going to pass safety inspection, after working tirelessly on problems that seemed to pop out of nowhere, we pulled through on the second day and managed to pass safety testing and got everyone on the team to run the track,” Thibodeau said.

The eight students cheered each other on.

“When that first student went out onto the track to get those two laps, to see how excited the rest of the team was to have that car go around the track, that 15-minute stretch was about as rewarding experience as I’ve had as a teacher yet,” Behnke said.



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