COOPERSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — On Friday at Berlin Raceway, high schoolers from around the country will compete in Electrathon. The students at Cooperville High School have become the odds-on favorite in these electric car races thanks to the man who helped start the competition more than three decades ago.
In the final lap of high school, the group of seniors at Coopersville is preparing the vehicle that’s getting them to the finish: a race car.
Last year, they won every race they attended, totaling in 26 wins. But what the students are learning is you don’t win a race on race day, it’s in the preparation.
“The first thing they have to do is come up with some kind of design,” said Coopersville Engineering teacher Jim Nicolas. “My kids will go to the CAD room and they’ll start drawing frames.”
One student said every piece of the racecar is designed on-site in SolidWorks, a 3D CAD design software.
“From that drawing have to decide, okay, how are we going to build it? Once you start putting the stuff on, you test it,” said Nicolas.
They continue those tests until they find the motor that will be most efficient, students say. Then, they all race it.
This class has been the brainchild of engineering teacher Jim Nicolas.
“They do everything,” Nicolas said.
He’s had the wheel spinning in students’ minds with electric car racing since 1993.
“Every kid that’s ever done this has bought in. As soon as they sat in the car and drove it or watched it,” said Nicolas.
He’s also been the biggest proponent for growing the competition. Specifically, the hometown race at Berlin Raceway, the Electrathon.
“We raced Electrathon America for probably the first 10 years, but the rules allowed you to do some stuff that wasn’t very safe for high school kids,” said Nicolas. “So, we created a NECA to make it safer.”
Because of several factors, including the pandemic and the fact that this is Jim’s final year in the classroom here at Coopersville, he’ll retire at the end of the year. There was some concern for the future of Electrathon until LG energy solution Michigan stepped up to sponsor.
“I’m hoping to see the program grow so that anybody that just wants to do it would be able to do it. And you need a company like an LG to be able to step in there and say, oh, well, we’ll pay you,” said Nicolas.
For LG, this partnership was a no-brainer.
“It goes hand in hand with what they’re doing in the learning side, but also now the full scale of the translation to the real world of what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis,” said David WynKoop of LG Energy Solution Michigan. “Just seems like a very good fit for both.”
With a major push for electric vehicles and their work pioneering the lithium ion battery, these students are the future of their workforce. Students say the class gave them direction for what they might want to do in the future. It taught them a love of engineering.
The cars race at about 40 mph for an hour straight and the team with the most laps in that time wins. The Electrathon will be at Berlin Raceway in Marne on Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
*Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Nicolas’ last name. We regret the error, which has been fixed.