RoadTrip America

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Formula Lightning!
BGSU's winning team & car
Bowling Green State University's winning car, driver and team

Electric Race Cars from across the Continent Meet at Indianapolis Raceway Park

October, 1999
Indianapolis, Indiana—

We all know electric cars are quiet, and they're friendly to the environment. The surprising thing is that they're also fast. The race cars we watched at the Formula Lightning Classic prove that electricity isn't just for golf carts any more. They flew around the track at speeds up to 150 miles an hour.

Barry Piersol
Faculty adviser Barry Piersol with Bowling Green State's winning car

Seven university-sponsored cars and teams gathered from across the country to compete at Indianapolis Raceway Park in what Bowling Green faculty member Barry Piersol called "the newest academic sport in the nation." We joined them on the infield as they prepared for the race.

Russ Eberhart
Professor Russ Eberhart of IUPUI

"It's history in the making," said Russ Eberhart, a dean and professor at Indiana University/ Purdue University and one of the race's organizers, "We've never had more people in the stands, and this is the first time an electric car race has a gasoline-powered truck rally as a supporting event. It's the future, here today."

West Virginia pit stop
Pit stop for West Virginia University: 1500 pounds of fesh batteries
Avon's go-carts
Avon High School's electric go-carts

Winning go-cart
The winner, which also took first place
in the National Solar Rayce
University of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma at the start line
Oklahoma pit stop
Pit stop for Oklahoma
Indiana University/Purdue University's car

Ohio University
Ohio University's car

If it is, the future is quiet. The most startling thing about the electric race cars is their sound. Forget the roar of the Indianapolis 500. These cars skim over the track with a quiet 'whoosh!' We watched the qualifying heats and saw that pit stops are different, too. When the car pulls into pit row, the crew deftly replaces 1500 pounds of batteries in amatter of seconds.

The first race of the day was an electric go-cart competition in which two vehicles from Avon High School in Avon, Indiana, competed. "We've had the go-cart program for three years," said adviser and technology teacher Gary Ayers. "We also compete in the National Solar Rayce. It's part of our hands-on approach to teaching math and science."

After the roar of the NAMARS Super Truck Rally died down, it was time for the day's premier event, the Formula Lightning Classic. Ohio State University, having performed the best in the qualifying heats, assumed the front-running position.A pace car led the pack around the track, and with a green flag, the race was on, quiet and fast. We watched from the infield, amazed to be speaking without shouting during an Indy-style competition.

A faulty electrical controller took the University of Oklahoma out of competition at its pit stop, and, after thirty laps, Bowling Green State took the gold. Ohio State came in second, followed by Brigham Young.

Hands shaken and trophies received, the teams set about stashing their cars and equipment in the trucks they's arrived in. From the conversations we overheard, they were already planning for their next chance to make quiet history together.


For more about electric race cars, follow these links:

Bowling Green State University: