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Students compete in fight against the pump

Chris Flath, Ryan Lee, William Friese, and Kevin Harper work on one of the three cars for the MTEA Super Mileage competition in May. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

Students in the New York Mills School power mechanics class are about halfway through the assembly of the aluminum car they'll use to compete in the Minnesota Technology Education Association (MTEA) Super Mileage competition in May.

The ultimate goal of the competition is to make a car, while following lengthy guidelines, capable of whipping through a six-mile course using as little gas as possible.

Last year, NY Mills competed in two classes: stock and modified. The school placed sixth out of 41 in the stock class, with an average of 287 mpg, and seventh out of 14 in the modified class, with an average of 311 mpg.

Currently, the class is upgrading the cars from last year, as well as constructing a third model.

In order to reuse cars from the year before, certain modifications must take place. The class added some safety measures to their cars, like a review backup camera, and moved the throttle and brake to foot controls instead of hand controls.

They are also switching out some parts to drop around 10 pounds from the car.

The car the class is constructing from scratch will run on ethanol. Engine modification, which is necessary for an engine to run on ethanol, has been a good learning experience for students, teacher Luke Becker said.

Building the cars is not a simple process. First, the students have to draw up a 10-page proposal, then design and build the car, all in time for the race on May 14 and 15 at the Brainerd International Raceway.

Top schools win engines to use in future cars.

There will be 17 NY Mills students going to the event in May, with most of them driving. Students must be 16 and 130 pounds with a driver's license to drive.

NY Mills works with neighboring schools like Perham and Staples, offering tips and spare parts. Becker refers to it as "gracious professionalism."

Though the area schools are in a sense competing with each other, Becker said, sharing information and extra parts, so every group can achieve their goal and hopefully prevent accidents along the way, makes helping each other worth it.

A tip relating to the best kind of front axle could prevent the front wheel from coming off during the race, which is what happened to the NY Mills team last year.

Becker noticed a lot of secrecy at last year's race - some groups hid their cars when cameras were present, and Becker doesn't want the NY Mills program to be so secretive.

The NY Mills program wouldn't be possible without the help of others - all the aluminum was donated by Lund Boats and Detroit Lakes-based BTD Manufacturing.

There are also some former NY Mills students, currently attending Alexandria Technical College, who continue to contribute to the group effort by making some car parts. Former students made the wheel axles for the front wheels, which are made for downhill biking.

Becker said one "cool" aspect of this class is that at least six participating students chose to continue their education in machining or welding.

Becker said many students who participated last year still regularly ask how the cars are coming along. They are all thankful for the opportunity to build cars and memories.