The ride began a week ago when we arrived at Michigan International Speedway for the first track event for the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition on Sunday April 25. The culmination of more than two years of work was finally going to be tested. We had no idea what we were in for.
Monday was something like a bad proctology exam. A retired head of engineering from Chrysler who developed the Dodge Viper began the interrogation. His third question was “what torque spec plan did you use for the vehicle?” I responded “the German one” to which he responded with a puzzled look, “what is that?” I replied “all the bolts are gutten-tight”. With no expression and a flat tone, he replied “funny”. At that point I knew it was going to be a long week. After finding several loose bolts, we had to produce a real torque-spec plan and then demonstrate that every bolt was tightened to that torque. And that was the easy part - it went downhill from there.
Tuesday began at 7AM in the garage and we left at 9:30 PM. We sat down for dinner around 10 PM – Ann looked like she might fall asleep while we waited for our food. Mark recalled the ridiculousness of the day while Keith and Jerry lamented that they had a few more hours of programming to do on the control system that night. I’m not sure if they slept at all. I noticed that my hands looked as if I had been playing with barbed-wire. What a day.
However, by early Wednesday morning I felt the joy of coming out the other side of an abusive relationship. Both cars completed the first stage and received their little green sticker which were required to move to the next stage – dynamic testing. You would have thought we won the lottery when the sticker hit the windshield. The cars we had dreamed of almost three years ago were given their first official approval. It’s hard to describe that feeling.
The dynamic testing was the second of three required events to “pass” this stage of the competition. It consisted of a 0 to 60 acceleration test, a 60 to 0 braking test, and a high speed lane change test that were all conducted by Consumer Reports. The GT, driven by Mark, sailed through all three events and by the end of the day qualified for the third and final requirement – the durability test. The GT was running so well, Mark signed up for the two optional events – emissions and efficiency. The Focus was another story. I ran the Focus in the 0 to 60 test on electric only. The Harley engine was not working properly. I topped out at 58 mph in my third run and then the electric drive system turned off. We searched for the cause for hours – could it be the motor, the controller, the battery pack? We spent all afternoon Wednesday working on the Harley engine and trying to resolve our electric propulsion problems. We charged the battery pack (which is another story in itself) and first thing Thursday took another shot with the Focus. The electric drive clicked off again. It looked like two years of work was about to come to an end. Ann wanted to vomit. I prayed and worked as hard as I could. It appeared that our ride was over. We took the Focus back to the garage and fought the Harley engine. Keith reprogrammed the control system just so we could use the Harley for the acceleration test. I prayed more. Ann said she was considering getting Bat-Mitzvahed. Just as we got the Harley started it began to rain. You can’t do a braking test in the rain – you can’t do a high speed lane change in the rain. All the teams who had run those tests (about half by this point) struggled to meet the requirements on dry pavement. I couldn’t believe it was raining – and the Harley was barely running.
And then something happened. The rollercoaster began to ascend from the depths. The rain stopped. The pavement dried up in minutes. And the Harley decided to behave – and Keith’s programming actually allowed me to drive on both electric and Harley. We hurried over to the track and took our first run. It was 4PM and Consumer Reports was scheduled to leave at 5PM. They dropped the green flag – I started off slowly (another long story) and then punched it. The Harley coupled to the transmission and launched me to 70 MPH in what felt like seconds. I flew past the braking skid pad at 67 mph and stopped in the required distance. We passed the braking test! I thought we had passed the acceleration test but found out that the slow start kept me from making the requirement. So we tried again – but then the Harley died. The clock was ticking. Once again, the coaster was on its way back down. I called my mother and told her to pray. We fought the Harley again and finally got it started. I knew this was the last run. As the green flag dropped, I eased off the line, and then floored it. As I pulled through third gear, the car continued to accelerate. I decided not to shift – the car was going to reach 60 or the engine was going to blow. One way or the other, this was it. I flew across the finish line with the engine blaring at over 6000 rpms. The Focus actually accelerated faster than the GT. We passed the acceleration test and hurried over to the lane change. It was tricky, but we did it. The rollercoaster was soaring high again.
The Focus was scheduled for the 40 mile durability run at the track’s old Formula 1 course for Friday at 2PM. It was the last event of the week. Five teams showed up to run it. Five other teams didn’t even make it to this point. We spent all morning getting the Harley working properly and charging the batteries. The Harley was finally working and the batteries were charged. The Focus was running at its best. We arrived at 2PM full of confidence.
After a short drivers’ meeting, we lined up. We went to start the Harley, but it just wouldn’t start. So I decided to watch the battery pack closely and run on electric only. After 10 miles I knew the car wouldn’t make it on electric only. I pulled into the pit and we fought the Harley. After a long battle, it relented and started. It wasn’t running well, but with its assistance, I was sure we could make the laps in the allotted time. Two laps in with the Harley, I smelled smoke. As I came through the hairpin turn, the car lost all power. I knew something bad had happened. Fortunately there was a flag station next to the corner. I pulled in and immediately one of the fire trucks pulled up next to me. I opened the hood and indeed, there was a fire. Two years of work and all the hype, literally going up in flames. I thought I was going to vomit. The fireman used his canister and put out the fire. I was sure the rollercoaster had hit its lowest point already – I was wrong. Twelve years of building cars and this was one of the best we’ve ever built. How could this happen?
The good news was that we discovered that our disaster wasn’t as bad as we thought and that it had been caused by a stupid mistake. Oil leaked and caught fire. The damage was minimal. We filed an appeal and the judges accepted it. Somehow, miraculously, we’ll be back in June – with both cars.
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.
I wasn’t there at the very beginning. At the start of it all it was Simon Hauger, math and physics teacher at the West Philadelphia High Auto Academy, and a group of students who entered the science fair. It was 1998. The kids in Simon's after school program built an electric go-kart. They won the science fair. It was a remarkable achievement. There had never been a science fair winner from West Philadelphia High School, let alone form the Auto Academy.
The after school program grew from building science fair projects to competing in the Tour de Sol, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious alternative fuel vehicle race. The students built an electric car and became the Electric Vehicle, or EV Team. Besides building electric vehicles, they built hybrid and biodiesel vehicles, but the name stuck.
When we entered the X PRIZE, there were many suggestions about what our team name should be including X-Treme Team, X-Dream Team, and many other hokey suggestions. We kept our original team name and added the X: EVX Team. However, we thought the name wasn’t quite descriptive enough, so we gave ourselves an official name, too. We would be the West Philly Hybrid X Team. EVX would be the name of our cars. A little confusing having two names for one team, but it looks good on our logo.
Now, it looks like an extremely good idea since there is another EVX Team in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. You can check out their website and follow them in the competition, too. We hope that you take a look at all our competitors and see all the different ways teams are getting to 100 MPGe. Follow their progress and the new technologies. At the end of the summer we hope that they will all follow us across the finish line. We’ll keep you posted.
When old is better than new.
I’m an oldhead. No doubt about it. I’m the oldest member of the West Philly Hybrid X Team by many years. However, when you hang around teenagers every day you learn some new things. I text, although never while driving. I am on Facebook, although I don’t play any games. I even know what LMAO is. I do it often. I work with teenagers.
That brings me to my story about Sekou Kamara. Sekou is a senior. I’ve told Mrs. Cruz, the West Philadelphia High School Principal, that if she ever needs any work done in the office, she should call Sekou. It’s true. If we need the shop cleaned at 6:00 AM, Sekou will arrive at 5:45. If there are 50 boxes of text books to move, Sekou’s the man.
When visitors come to the shop and we need someone to explain the technology, Sekou is the best tour guide. By the way, (I recently learned that this can be expressed as BTW) he was a full time intern for SEPTA this summer working on the rail side. Over the summer Sekou acquired a whole new body of knowledge about electricity.
During our team building workshop, Sekou was the most engaged and insightful team member.
However, if you are looking for Sekou at 3:00 PM for our regular Tuesday meeting, he won’t be there. Why? He is attending credit recovery, making up classes that he failed last semester. I truly don’t understand it.
I told Sekou he is an enigma. He didn’t know what an enigma is. I consulted with Ms. R. because she is an English teacher. I think the correct new definition of enigma is WTF. Sekou, who is also on Facebook, understood.
Ride or Die!