Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The Mississippi Band of Choctaws kicked serious sun-lovin' butt this past month after taking home the overall championship in the 15th Hunt-Winston Solar Car Challenge for high-school teams. Their vehicle is a low-riding, 1,316-pound creature that looks like it could ride in under your radar and deliver serious damage to your ground troops before vanishing back off into the night.
"The kids named it Tuska Hashi, which means ‘sun warrior' in Choctaw," said Choctaw Central High School team adviser Frankie Germany. "It's the most aerodynamic vehicle in the race, and after all their hard work, everything worked perfectly, and the drivers were wonderful. They've been running in this race since 2005, but this time we took home the best score."
The 11-student Choctaw Central High School team ducked out of their tribe's stickball competition to win the race—not an easy thing to do, considering how highly the Choctaws prize their stickball games—but that's OK. Team adviser Joey Long said team members consoled themselves by beating the absolute heck out of their competition last month.
Judges designated The Tuska Hashi the fastest after it completed an eight-day, 866-mile run from Dallas, Texas, to Boulder, Colo., at an average speed of 34.7 miles per hour. The car went 3 percent farther and 9.5 percent faster than the second-fastest car in the race.
Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that Purdue University professors donated the cab and aerodynamic top portion of the vehicle, which likely could slip through molasses like a shark through murky water. Or perhaps the victory had something to do with the 480 Sun Power A-300 photovoltaic modules covering the vehicle like second-graders in an elementary school cafeteria on pizza day. The cells collect an unbelievable 21.5 percent of the sun's energy—an efficiency rating impossible outside of laboratory conditions less than six years ago. Technology is definitely improving on the solar-panel front, and Long said once photovoltaic module efficiency reaches 50 percent, people probably won't even remember what gasoline looked like.
"Fifty-percent efficiency is a number that keeps coming up in solar-technology circles," Long said. "With that kind of production, you would only need a few panels to run a regular home. It would change our whole energy infrastructure. That's why I always tell the students, ‘Get your degree. Follow the technology and maybe you'll grow up and one day be the face behind the transformation of our world.'"
That's the not-so-distant future. The more immediate future for Team Tuska Hashi includes collecting enough money to get the Choctaw kids to the 2011 World Solar Challenge in Australia. As overall winners in the Hunt-Winston Solar Car Challenge, both the car and the students qualify to knock heads with students from a host of braggadocious, tea-drinking nations that could be brought down a peg or two by Native American know-how.
The costs to move the team and their vehicle from here to Australia—where they will run a grueling race from the northern tip of the continent in Darwin to the southern coastal town of Adelaide—could run from $50,000 to $100,000. Prospective donors should call Frankie Germany or Long at 601-663-7806 or 601-663-7807.