Andrew Dee pushes Hunter Mattson in their teams’ urban concept diesel car outside of the shop at Granite Falls High School on Thursday, April 27, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Andrew Dee pushes Hunter Mattson in their teams’ urban concept diesel car outside of the shop at Granite Falls High School on Thursday, April 27, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Tigerspeed’: Granite Falls Eco-Car team fueled for success

A storied high school club finished fifth at a national competition, where it’s a race for efficiency, not speed.

GRANITE FALLS — At Granite Falls High School, they build race cars.

They are not race cars in the traditional sense. In fact, they are not built for speed at all, but for fuel efficiency. The school’s Eco-Car team entered two cars into the Shell Eco-Marathon this year, an international competition for student engineers.

This year, their top-placing car got 245 miles per gallon. For many of the students, their dedication to the club comes back to one simple fact.

“I love cars,” said Grant Stewart, a junior at the school. “My fifth grade teacher introduced me to this program and I’ve had my hopes and dreams on it ever since.”

Stewart served as a driver and as the team manager for the squad, but titles don’t mean much to the members. Everyone does a little bit of everything to help get the cars ready.

Teams had seven months to design and build a vehicle for the marathon. Shell started the initiative in 1985 with 25 teams in France. There are now three regions for the competition — the Americas, Asia Pacific and a combined region of the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The Granite Falls team competed in the Americas regional marathon. The event was held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from April 12-16. Students even had a chance to kiss the bricks at the speedway, a traditional custom for racers. Racing happened on a closed course that used the raceway infield. The team used AirPods to help direct the drivers during the race and they even used a 3D printer to create a phone holder for the cars.

At the event, the school club competed against educational institutions from across the country, including colleges, which is a point of pride. Their diesel-powered car finished fifth and beat the likes of Penn State, while the Texas A&M and University of Michigan teams did not even pass inspection.

There was a little bit of frustration regarding the team’s second car, an electric vehicle aptly called “Tigerspeed” that had its run rained out and didn’t place.

The cars aren’t cheap and some schools have the means to build a new one each year. Dakin Watland, who works for Boeing, is in his first year working with the team. The team itself has been around since 2009 and has a storied history. The school’s first car is even in a local museum.

“These cars are six or seven years old,” Watland said. “They’ve had older, previous models that they’ve kind of built off of and made better, but we definitely have to make a couple fixes this year.”

One fix they already made this season was thought up by former team member and current adviser Kaedin Schoneman.

It involved changing the gear system from automatic to manual. For experienced drivers, a manual system is more efficient than automatic. They then made further modifications in the name of comfort, which involved completely flipping the clutch from what someone might find in an older truck.

That made for a few hilarious moments as even the students who had driven clutch were trying to learn a new system. Many of the kids have years of experience riding motorbikes and ATVs in the foothills of the Cascades, making them a little more familiar than most.

“It ended up working out pretty well,” Schoneman said. “The kids are still trying to learn it though. Thankfully, most of the kids haven’t driven clutch a lot, so it wasn’t completely ingrained in their brain.”

These type of problem-solving exercises are common and done on a low budget. The team started with $18 in their bank account when they began to work on getting the cars ready for the competition this year.

While the school provides some funding, the club raised around $16,000 this year. The Stillaguamish Tribe was the biggest sponsor, donating $10,000. Local businesses also helped out, in a variety of ways. Mainly Muscle Cars donated a five-point safety harness, while Bicycle Centres of Everett helped them get new tires. One car uses motorcycle tires while the other uses bicycle tires.

Teams have the option of two car classes: urban concept and prototype. Urban concept cars have four wheels and look like more traditional road cars. Prototype cars usually have three wheels and are lightweight.

After choosing a class, teams choose how to power their vehicles. They have three options: internal combustion, battery-electric, or hydrogen fuel cells. Teams get to enter a maximum of two vehicles in the competition.

“I think my favorite part was just driving around Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Hunter Mattson, a junior. “… I got told to go like hell.”

Mattson got drawn into the club because a couple people around the school knew about his mechanical skills and the team needed some more people. In his free time, Mattson tinkers with a 1975 GMC K-25. It needs a new coat of paint, but it runs and is getting closer to being finished.

Schoneman finally got a truck of his own finished last summer. He credits joining the club as a huge reason for finally finishing that project.

“If you want to learn a skill and we have the means to teach you, we’ll teach you,” Schoneman said. “We’ll teach you, especially if we can use it on the car.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@soundpublishing.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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