Swanville students set out to build 300-mile per gallon stock car for Supermileage Challenge

Staff Writer
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Senior Derek Pfeiffer welds the frame of the Swanville industrial technology stock car “The Snapper,” Thursday. The car will be entered into the 24th annual Supermileage Challenge in Brainerd, May 14 - 15, with schools competing to see which vehicle is the most fuel efficient.

Constructing cars with higher fuel efficiency is a growing trend in the auto world.

However, a group of students at Swanville High School is preparing to take that to an entirely different level at the 24th annual Supermileage Challenge.

The competition, held at the Brainerd International Raceway May 14 – 15, will feature teams from schools across the state seeking to have the car with the best mileage per gallon.

The amount?

Anywhere from approximately 100 – 900 miles per gallon, Swanville industrial technology teacher Gerry Bahe said.

“We’re hoping for between 300 – 400 for the first year,” he said.

After attending a Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association (MTEEA) conference last year, Bahe decided to enter his students in the challenge.

There are four divisions in the competition, with Swanville and all other first-year schools entered into the stock car class.

After returning to school at the start of January, the class went to work.

“It started with four bars that we welded together,” senior Derek Pfeiffer said. “Then we just started putting stuff in.”

Members of the Swanville industrial technology class listen as instructor Jim Dickinson explains how to properly install a braking system during Thursday’s class. Pictured are (from left): freshman Josh Klemish, Dickinson and senior Keith Evans.

A number of students will have the opportunity to take a turn driving the car, Bahe said.

At the competition, the car will be driven around the track twice, covering about six miles.

Following that, students will drain the fuel from a custom fuel tank into a beaker, measuring the amount of fuel used.

Each team gets six runs, then the students will use the results to calculate the average mileage per gallon.

In order to be able to compete, several precautions have been built into the design to ensure the safety of the drivers.

“Before the competition starts, we go through a rigorous inspection before we can compete,” Bahe said.

The car is equipped with two kill switches, one accessible to the driver, the other to the pit crew.

It also contains a firewall, roll cage, five-point safety harness and fire extinguisher, while drivers will wear a Department of Transportation-approve motorcycle helmet.

The driver will be able to exit the vehicle in less than 15 seconds.

Forty four high schools competed last year. The top run for a stock car was 616.9 miles per gallon by Chisago Lakes.

“This is a really big deal in our community,” Pfeiffer said. “For such a small town, it will be nice to be able to get out there.”

“It shows it doesn’t matter how big the school is,” senior Danny Barthel said. “If you have enough talent, you can achieve a lot of different things.”

Also, having the chance to compete at such an event and meet new people is a unique opportunity, senior Riley Gutormson said.

“The excitement in the classroom has elevated,” Bahe said.

The class has been able to apply knowledge from several classes while building the car as well, Bahe said. The group had to write an eight-page proposal and has utilized physics and math for various calculations.

The Swanville Lions and community member Jim Dickinson have been instrumental in the project, Bahe said, with the Lions providing financial support and Dickinson offering hands-on work and guidance.

Members of the class include seniors Pfeiffer, Barthel, Gutormson, Keith Evans, Tyler Becker and Davey Kruchten, juniors Paul Fruechte, Zach Holtz and Austin Mollner and freshmen Austin Johnson, Josh Klemish and Calvin Peterson.

“With the mentors that we have, we’re going to have a lot of success,” Pfeiffer said. “This is the first time any of us have built a car from scratch. This is only the beginning.”