The high-mileage car built by Mauston High School students gets 113 miles to the gallon and is not for sale. However, with gas prices hovering around $4 per gallon, the students might be onto something.
“The competition isn’t about speed, it’s about gas mileage,” said Bryon Hoehn, whose advanced welding class students built the car.
How many miles to the gallon qualifies as “high-mileage” in a competition?
“We averaged 113 miles per gallon,” Hoehn said.
That landed the team of nine boys second place at their latest competition last week in Elk Heart Lake. Hoehn said the first place car placed in the 140 mpg range.
“That got us second, so I guess it wasn’t too bad,” said senior Jay Tomaloff.
The competition consisted of about 40 teams and required the car be driven at least 8.2 miles on a track.
“The track was 4.1 miles long and we had to complete at least three runs of two laps,” Hoehn said.
“The hardest part was the hills. … Our chain kept popping off,” Tomaloff said.
The students compete in the Briggs & Stratton stock class, which doesn’t allow them to make any changes or adjustments to their engine — only the outside of the car may be modified to improve gas mileage. The more advanced classes, which allow for engine modification, feature cars that reach over 300 miles per gallon. Making modifications to the body of the car called for a lot of math and science.
“At one point we had the calculus teacher down here trying to figure out the ratios for our gear sizes and what our top speed would be,” Hoehn said.
In addition to working out math and science problems, the students learn problem-solving skills.
At their last competition, Hoehn said he thought the team was going to have to pack up the car and go home after they failed the initial inspection.
“They said we needed an additional roll bar. … We didn’t bring any metal or tools with us, just small tools to fix things we thought might break,” he said.
The boys talked to other advisers and other teams, started borrowing metal and tools and pretty soon they had a brand new roll bar on the car.
In addition to passing an inspection, the team had to provide a typed portfolio that documented all the time spent working on the car, all the formulas and ratios needed and the drawings and blueprints.
“They spent a lot of time on (the project), they learned a lot … it’s some of those things that you just don’t learn in a book,” Hoehn said.
Tomaloff said the class was one of his favorites and that he learned quite a bit.
His biggest takeaway, however, is a harsh reality that most vehicle owners come to grips with at some point or another:
“Something is always going to go wrong,” Tomaloff said. “It was a good experience. That’s the truth, though: Something always goes wrong on your car no matter what you do.”