I’ve been trying to tell you about our trip to the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X Prize since last week. I tried to write before we left town on Sunday, but we were overwhelmed with getting ready and packing. I was sure I would have time to write while we were at the Michigan International Speedway, but every time I sat down at the computer, I’d get sent on a parts run. The guys at Speedway Auto in Brooklyn, MI started asking for my time card.
It’s now 8 PM on Wednesday April 28. The Team has already logged 41 hours at the track. I hopped a ride to the hotel while the rest of crew stayed at the track working. If you are asking why, that’s a very good question. I’ll start my answer by telling you what the PAXP has all the teams doing this week.
First, a little background. A year ago there were 111 teams chasing the $10 million purse in a competition to build cars that achieve over 100 MPGe. Today, there are only 28 left. Half those teams are at the Speedway this week and other half check in on Sunday. We each undergo 5 days of intensive inspection and testing.
On Monday and Tuesday each of our cars was evaluated by the PAXP technical teams. We’re talking fine toothed comb here. Not like flea combs, we mean lice combs. That’s right, they went through each car and we spent several days picking nits and lice. The mechanical inspectors checked the torque of every bolt, the manner in which fuel lines were run, how we secured our on-board fire extinguishers vehicle clearances, etc., etc., etc.
Then, because our cars are hybrids we underwent electrical inspection. Those inspectors were just as thorough as the mechanical guys, looking at issues including how we labeled our high voltage lines, were there padded grommets at each place a line passed through metal, how our emergency disconnects worked and more and more.
After each car was inspected, we had a list of issues to address. That’s how I came to learn all about the hardware stores, auto parts stores, coffee shops and fire extinguisher suppliers in this part of Michigan. I think I made over 20 runs. The good news is, at 11:15 this morning, both cars passed inspection. We were among the first group of teams to pass this hurdle. We got to eat lunch and breathe for about 20 minutes. Then we hit the track for the first day of dynamic testing. Each car had to pass an acceleration, braking and lane change test. The good news is that the GT passed all of today’s tests and will move on to durability and range testing tomorrow. The Focus encountered some software issues and will have to run through the dynamic testing tomorrow. That’s why the rest of the team is still at the track.
There are many amazing teams and vehicles here with us. Take a look at all the different ways competitors are getting to 100 MPGe. One of the most impressive teams is Edison 2, which brought 4 cars to the competition. Their Team Director is Oliver Kuttner. Here’s what he said: “The hurdles are set high and only the very careful and very well executed solution will stand the test of this X Prize. There is a reason why the big automobile manufacturers have not done it. It is really hard to do…”
We agree. But hard work has never stopped us before and it won’t stop us now, either.
Ride or Die.
Michael Glover is a first-year-team member, and a junior at the West Philadelphia Auto Academy. Ann and I can’t figure him out.
He has a C or D, in pretty much all of his classes, including shop. Recently, Mr. Preiss caught him cutting shop not once, but twice. I guess the shop doesn’t have what the corner store does.
He falls asleep in my class about once a week. I have his mother’s cell phone number saved in my phone, and I recently sent her a picture message of her son sleeping in my class. It was probably one of the greatest picture texts I have ever sent.
When interim reports went out, Michael was in shock to see such low grades. He couldn’t understand why the majority of his grades were low D’s, and in my case an F.
“Michael, you never do your homework. You never have your books for class. Sometimes you don’t even have a pen.. The only major assignment you completed was the four stanza poem with metaphors. And you didn’t even write four stanzas. And you wrote similes!”
Yet, Michael does exceptionally well after 3:04 p.m.
He is an amazing football player. He was a great asset to the team this past fall as an offensive linebacker. He did very well in the field and worked very hard in practice. He loves football so much. He cannot wait for the football summer camp in July.
When football season was over, he joined the West Philly Hybrid X Team. He was simply looking for something to do after school. Many of the students on the team fall into this category. They enjoy automotive and working with the teachers and teammates. Most of the students don’t want to go home right after school.
Yet, Michael has a tremendous family base. His mother is very supportive and is in constant communication with his teachers. I know. I talk to her about once or twice a week. His father stops by the shop to check in on Michael. Sometimes Michael doesn’t do a great job of letting his parents know his schedule when we are in the shop late into the evening. When that happens, they come looking for him.
Michael may be one of the only students on the team who realizes all the exceptional opportunities provided for him. He said in an interview that he joined the team because he thought this could be a way to get into college. He also said that he is pretty much as famous as all the influential people the team has met, and doesn’t see the big deal with them coming to our shop.
He thrives on Simon’s lectures on aerodynamics. He loves the science behind the cars and is working very closely with a Penn student volunteer on researching ways to make the cars more aerodynamic. He is the one who found a more aerodynamic windshield that the team is looking to buy for the cars. The same day he left for the corner store during sixth period, he stayed with Edgar (the Penn engineering student) until five o’clock to research a contraption he could build to put on top of the GT to lower wind resistance.
When the gear heads on the team stumble over the name of a car part, a specific about the hybrid technology, or the effect of rolling resistance on fuel economy, Michael has the answer. Without fail. Every time it happens – which is frequently – we’re floored. This is why Ron Preiss says Michael should major in EV.
Ann and I spent an entire evening about two weeks ago talking about Michael Glover and his idiosyncrasies, and we still can’t figure him out. He is the reason why high school curriculum should be restructured, the school hours reworked, the menu in the cafeteria overhauled and football mini camps should be scheduled throughout the school year. We also need to trust in our students’ abilities some more.
Last thought: I was so frustrated with Michael one day that I called my mother and had her speak to him. Whenever a student is giving me a particular hard time, I call my mom in the middle of class and have her speak to him/her. Last year it was Rameak Taylor. This is year, it is Michael Glover. My mother is a force. She yells more than I do. She works at a middle school in Maryland. Her lunch is during my fourth period with Michael. Convenient. Even after their conversation, Michael still didn’t do his homework that night and didn’t bring his book to class.
We are stumped.
Thursday November 5, 2009
I started my day at my favorite spot, Metal Stock , a football field sized warehouse filled with every shape, size and type of metal you can imagine with the added endorphin releasing agents of burnt metal, dingy lighting and whirring machinery. The first time I walked in to Metal Stock, it was a religious experience. Today was no different, just a little better. After walking through the shop floor (how many OSHA regs did I violate on my journey?) I arrived at the office to pick up my order. When the woman processing my order realized I was from West Philly High School, she stopped and looked up at me. “I saw you on the Today Show last week – you guys were amazing.” She continued to say things that made me feel really good.
I didn’t think the day could get better. But it did. I made it to the shop, and began working with the kids on the hybrid drive. Mr. DiLossi’s cousin dropped off a custom machined shaft for the drive – serendipitously just when we needed it.
We work on the X Prize cars almost every day after school, but Tuesdays are our regular meeting days. There was no school on Tuesday and Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky was slated to show up at 3PM so we scheduled a Team meeting. The SEPTA strike kept the writer away, but the video reporter arrived.
Just as the meeting started, the principal, and both vice principals came storming into the shop calling for me, “Hauger, Hauger”. I got a sick feeling in my stomach – I just couldn’t figure out why I was in trouble. Mrs. Cruz started saying good stuff – it took my brain a few seconds to make the adjustment and for the knots to loosen in my stomach. She explained that musician Wyclef Jean was visiting the school and would like to meet the Team and see the car. I told her that would be wonderful – the cars are right here. She wanted us to show him the “pretty” one. Of course, she meant the Hybrid Attack.
The kids were ecstatic. They pulled the Attack out and cleaned it up. Then we worked on the X Prize cars until he showed up. Since I’m not a wordsmith – I’m an engineer by training –what followed would best be described as a triple integral over a Gaussian surface. I know – that’s lame. I’m sorry. We hung out with Wyclef. He’s an off-the-charts car buff -- has a McLaren F1, a doped-out Ferrari 360 Spider, a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado and a Spiderman custom chopper built by those Orange County guys. An amazing conversation ensued. It was way cool. We shared trade secrets with his automotive engineer who’s building a super fast environmentally friendly car for Wyclef. Maybe he’ll just buy ours. We spoke to his manager – she would like to get us in a video. And then my students started spittin’ rhymes; free stylin’. For fifteen minutes they were all rapping with Wyclef. You had to see it to believe it.
I walked over to the garage door just to take it all in. Justin Carter walked over and said “Haug, this is ridiculous. This is the best day of my life. Look – Wyclef is free stylin’ with Sekou in front of our car in our shop.” I had this surreal feeling – I was fully expecting to wake up in my bed, roll over, and try to explain to my wife that I dreamt a famous rapper stopped by the shop, free styled with my students, wants to put us in his next video, I got to share our secrets with his personal car designer and the principal was being super nice to me. And oh, yeah – a newspaper video person just happened to be there to capture it all on tape. Crazy – huh?
For us religious folks, these situations are kind-of confusing. Serendipity feels more like divine intervention.
I heard a man say Jesus walks
Me, myself, I heard Jesus talks
Cause when I heard his beat
I felt Jesus voice…
It was a fast car
Every day is like the wild wild west
Some of us are bad boys
Some of us are outlawed…
In the fast car
Jump in the fast car
-- an excerpt from Wyclef Jean’s “Fast Car”