Imagine yourself lying nearly prone on your back in a single-passenger, torpedo-shaped car, hurtling forward, feet-first, at speeds topping 30 miles per hour. You zoom along about two inches off the ground; the world is a blur.
For safety, you wear a padded helmet, leather gloves and long-sleeve shirt and long pants. Your head is tilted upward. A steel cage entombs you and a roll-bar arcs over the top of your helmet. A tiny steering mechanism is tucked at your waist. You view the world, what little of it you can actually see, through safety goggles or a face shield and a sheet of plexiglass curved over your face. Two small mirrors by your knees, one on each side of your vehicle, show the world unreeling behind you like a silent movie in reverse.
When the cars are staged at the starting line, and the rally is moments from beginning, your heart pounds in your ears.
Except it’s not silent. Your breath rasps in the confined space. When the cars are staged at the starting line, and the rally is moments from beginning, your heart pounds in your ears. Then, the green flag drops, and acceleration pushes against your chest. Wind whistles by. Your car’s three wheels thrum against concrete. Behind your head, an electric motor whines, and a drive-chain rattles ever so slightly.
That, I imagine, is a little bit what driving a Power Drive car is like. You see, I have to imagine it because at my current rotund shape (and advanced age) there is no way I could pry myself into one of those slender cockpits. So I am left to wonder, as you may be, too, what if someone had come up to me when I was in high school, young and inquisitive about things in general, and asked, “Do you want to build an electric car?”
I’d have said, “You bet!” And then I’d have realized I didn’t have a clue what to do. And that, is the genius of Power Drive. High school students who are lucky enough to attend a school that has the program actually learn what it takes to engineer, design, build and drive a single-person electric car.
It’s an amazing thing to see. The students’ enthusiasm, engagement and competitiveness are palpable. They swarm like bees over their cars getting them ready for an hour-long endurance rally or attempting to effect a repair if one of the cars breaks down. I think it is fantastic that these kids get an opportunity to do something with their brains and their hands that goes beyond exercising their thumbs on an electronic game controller.
There are typically five Power Drive rallies each spring in Nebraska. NPPD has supported the program for 15 years. Students in the program have gone on to attend prestigious colleges and earn careers in engineering, automotive design and (near and dear to the hearts of those of us at NPPD) in the electric utility industry.
As I think today about Power Drive, it occurs to me that even though I am no longer able to participate actively in the program, I can promote it. It deserves support. The students in the program deserve everything we can do to keep Power Drive running strong, allowing as many kids as possible each year to hear that wonderful question hinting at unlimited possibilities: “Do you want to build an electric car?”