Electric Dreams: One Unlikely Team of Kids and the Race to Build the Car of the Future

Electric Dreams: One Unlikely Team of Kids and the Race to Build the Car of the Future

by Caroline Kettlewell

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When Eric Ryan is sent by Teach for America to a hard scrabble high school in the heart of North Carolina’s NASCAR country, one of the many things he didn’t count on was Harold Miller sticking his head into his class one morning and announcing, "Hey Mr. Ryan, we’re gonna build an electric car."

Two regional utilities had challenged a group of

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When Eric Ryan is sent by Teach for America to a hard scrabble high school in the heart of North Carolina’s NASCAR country, one of the many things he didn’t count on was Harold Miller sticking his head into his class one morning and announcing, "Hey Mr. Ryan, we’re gonna build an electric car."

Two regional utilities had challenged a group of elite schools throughout the South to design and build battery-powered electric vehicles. Although Ryan’s underprivileged high school had not even been on the list, somehow Miller had managed to squeak them in and onto an adventure which not only began to take over the lives of Ryan, Miller, and a local engineer named George Hawkins, but an unexpected group of kids with no visible resources, know-how, or expectations.

With an ancient Ford Escort rescued from the compacter, a few hundred pounds of scavenged golf cart batteries, a local minor league NASCAR driver as coach, and the local constabulary looking the other way as the reborn "Shocker" began careening over back roads on test runs, the kids (barely) get their pasted together dark horse to the big contest in Richmond, and then, naturally, win the whole thing.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1995 the Virginia Power company hosted a competition for high schools in the mid-Atlantic region to convert conventional automobiles into electric vehicles (EVs). As it happened, out of habitual disregard for impoverished Northampton County in North Carolina, the company nearly forgot to invite the eventual winners. Aided by a handful of phenomenal teachers, some uncommonly bright and determined students and a pervading regional interest in automobiles fueled by NASCAR, the county was able to outperform schools of far greater pedigree and budget. Of course, the widespread, reflexive negative expectations provided no small motivation to the kids of Northampton County. They mastered problems involving electrical wiring, battery longevity, welding and aerodynamics in converting a 1985 Ford Escort to the aptly named-in more ways than one-"Shocker." A resident of Richmond, Va., Kettlewell (Skin Game) brings just the right regional flavor to a can't-miss true story reminiscent of the movie Breaking Away. The word "inspirational" is applied to too many books, but it comfortably fits this one, with its genuinely likable cast of unlikely achievers. This is essential reading for any serious environmentalist, as it makes the case that EVs might play even in the conservative South. Even more, it contains profound lessons that everyone involved in the educational system would do well to heed. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In 1996, a team from a small, one might say impoverished, school in North Carolina won the mid-Atlantic high school electric vehicle challenge at the Richmond International Raceway, an Electric Vehicle Grand Prix. The Cinderella story of how the race went from dream to reality is a compelling one. When the technology teacher heard about the challenge, he immediately involved the new science teacher. As needed, other teachers and locals (including a NASCAR driver) became involved, along with the students of Northampton-East High School and several students from neighboring districts. Fundraising, from bake sales to begging from various businesses, was essential as there was no possibility of school funding for this project. To the disappointment of the students, the soon-to-be eviscerated vehicle was a donated 1985 Ford Escort, chosen for its size relative to its ability to hold the components of an electric vehicle. But they built it and it worked-and it won. This book is about teachers and other adults. It is a very good story of teachers motivating students to reach beyond what they think they can do and to do real learning from mistakes. But the author misses by not including the teen point of view. Most readers would enjoy seeing a photo of the car and a better view of the participants in the challenge than the sole photo on the jacket flap. That said, buy it for car enthusiasts and push it for nonfiction readers. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P J S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2004, Carroll & Graf, 288p.,$24. Ages 12 to Adult.
—Lynne Hawkins
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The chances of the North Hampton High School-East even getting to Richmond to compete in the first Mid-Atlantic High School Electric Vehicle Challenge were slim to none. All that the team from the poorest county in North Carolina had to do was "find a car, take it apart, put it back together, and make it drive" in five months. But Harold Miller, the auto technology teacher who'd grown up "with a torque wrench in his hand and a grease rag tucked in his pocket"; Eric Ryan, a California beach boy working in the Teach for America program; and the Electric Cars of Roanoke Valley team of students actually won the competition with "Shocker," a twice-totaled 1985 two-door Ford Escort powered by golf-cart batteries. Teens will be drawn to this story of underdogs battling the odds, and they will root for the students who worked together to design the engine and build it from the frame up. The tension and drama mount as the car progresses. The author has a keen eye for just the right detail and an ability to make even the mechanics of electric engines easy to understand.-Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Woodbridge, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Inspirational tale of how the outlandish idea of building an electrically powered car energized and transformed high-school students in an economically stressed community. Kettlewell (Skin Game, 1999) sets the stage by following Eric Ryan, a Berkeley honors graduate, into what he supposes will be a brief volunteer stint under the Teach for America program. Arriving as the new science teacher at Northampton East High in North Carolina, Ryan finds a venue about as different as he could imagine from his golden California student days: the region is seemingly frozen in time and locked away from the economic progress enjoyed by other parts of the country. Not only do most kids suffer from chronic low expectations, it's 30 miles to the nearest mall. In fact, about the only the thing the community gets worked up about are the exploits of local heroes on the NASCAR circuit, their state's gift to motor racing, dating from a tradition of high-speed, backroad moonshine deliveries. So when a Richmond power company announces a competition for student-built cars running solely on electricity, Northampton's vocational education teacher picks up on it first, then recruits Ryan and other teachers to sell both students and the administration on making a try. Underdogs from the start compared with much bigger, better endowed urban schools in the area, Northampton East teams with other county schools to rescue a battered Ford Escort from the local compacter and set about adapting it to an electric motor powered by golf cart batteries. The entire community pins its hopes on the project, and tension builds as various misfortunes, including an engine fire, plague the team. But they press on, all the way to thefinal competition on a real NASCAR track in Richmond and, ultimately, the trophy. Effectively poses the question: if kids from a hard-scrabble school district can turn out a roadworthy alternate fuel vehicle in a matter of months, what's wrong with our big car makers?Agent: Jennifer Lyons/Writers House

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Product Details

Da Capo Press
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Product dimensions:
6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

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