MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A puff of smoke and then, in a blink of an eye, they are gone. The small wooden model dragsters, powered by C02 cartridges, streak down a 70-foot length of plastic track and cross the finish line nearly quicker than the human eye can even detect.
The little cars were built by seventh graders at Mahopac Middle School as part of an annual technology department project, overseen by teachers Jason Klock and Tim Jordon.
Klock said he’s been teaching the project for about 28 years.
“Most middle schools do this as a standard project across New York State,” he said.
But it has evolved greatly at Mahopac Middle School since it first began. Initially, the races were held on the floor and timed by a stopwatch. Now, the cars race on a raised track kept on course by a guide wire, and timed electronically as light beams note when they start and when they finish.
The students build the cars out of kits that contain a block of basswood and a set of plastic wheels. They can customize, paint and decorate them as they see fit.
“They make a 2-D drawing of their design on some graph paper,” Klock said. “Then they go to the shop and cut it out on the band saw. They use spindle sanders and some handwork as well.”
The project teaches the students an array of subjects from aerodynamics to physics to algebra.
The timer measures how fast the cars traverse the 70-foot track in seconds. (Anything under 1 second is considered competitive.) The students are then taught how to convert feet per second into miles per hour. The little cars can move along as fast as 50 to 60 mph.
Klock holds a race each quarter and the top 15 best times get to move on to the finals for a total of 60 finalists. This year, for the first time, the finals were held in the middle school gym in the evening with parents and friends invited to come watch.
This year’s first-place winner was Luke Kelleher. Avery Farrell came in second and Colum Ranaghan took third.
“But a lot of times the winners are girls,” noted MMS principal Vince DiGrandi, “which I love!”
Klock said he decided to hold the event at night before an audience because this year’s class stepped up and did such an outstanding job. He wanted to show them off.
“They did such a beautiful job with their finishes,” he said. “This group of seventh graders has been such a pleasure to have.”
The cars are judged in two categories: fastest and best-looking. The top 10 finishers in each group get invited to a pizza party.