Bothell High students spend two years building Shock and Awe

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The car that can hit 159 mph on a quarter-mile track might look like a normal drag racer — Shock and Awe has a fiberglass 2003 Pontiac Firebird shell over a Jerry Bickel drag-racing chassis. But it is what’s under the hood that is surprising.

Its power source comes from nearly 800 lithium polymer batteries that look like Pop Tarts in foil packaging.

And the biggest surprise? This unique car was built by high school students.

Shock and Awe is the culmination of two years of auto shop classes taught by Bothell High School’s Pat McCue. Many of the Northshore Automotive Technology students put in more than 900 hours to custom-build the car, which began racing this spring.

Several years ago, McCue was looking for ways to integrate alternative fuels into his auto classes. His juniors and seniors converted a 1999 BMW 330i into an electric vehicle, which caught the attention of a Seattle-based education foundation called foundry10.

It granted the school money to do something no one had done before: construct an all-electric dragster with an AC motor.

Nearly every electric vehicle (as well as household fans and blenders) uses DC motors. With DC, electricity goes through brushes to make the motor spin. When that happens, there are tiny sparks. But those sparks ruin a motor over time, explains McCue. Electric race cars burn up brushes and contacts very quickly.

By using an AC motor, electromagnets induce a magnetic field to make the motor spin. It’s not quite as powerful on the low end of the RPM band, but can spin three to four times as fast, he says.

The National Electric Drag Racing Association says Shock and Awe holds the record for its class — high school EV over 600 volts. McCue believes they can shave even more time if they could get their hands on the latest Exalt or Kokam batteries.

“Five years ago, only a few people were making batteries for EV conversions, but battery technology is just going crazy right now,” he says.

“Finally seeing the car go fast and make a decent run was a fantastic feeling — especially because it didn’t start out that way,” says student leader Nathan Schuler, class of 2017.

It had a lot of problems early on. A glitch made the car shut down in the middle of a race and the wheels wanted to hop off the starting light.

“I’ve been very surprised at how well it has performed. At our first event, we were dialing in faster times than most of our competitors,” says Schuler. When the students tell people it’s running on 800 volts, their jaws usually drop, he says.

“When we hit the 9-second mark, the kids were going crazy,” says McCue. “At that point, that’s a really fast car. You’re not just the electric car doing some cool stuff, you’re competitive.”

The cost to build the project was comparable to a big block racer, with the basic car costing $20,000–$25,000 and another $100,000 for the motor, battery package, transmission, tires and accessories.

McCue will continue to race Shock and Awe this fall with the help of race mentors and student leaders. He says future classes will continue to tweak the car, adding new technology so they can continue setting records.