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Lakenheath High School teacher Garrett Billington and the Big IDEA, which stands for a school problem solving format meaning Identify, Develop, Execute and Analyze.
Lakenheath High School teacher Garrett Billington and the Big IDEA, which stands for a school problem solving format meaning Identify, Develop, Execute and Analyze. (Ben Murray / S&S)

Lakenheath High School science teacher Garrett Billington heads a project to produce a student-built electric race car that can compete against English teams on professional racetracks. Made of Styrofoam, duct tape, bike frames and a car battery-powered wheelchair motor, the car has failed to finish its first two competitions … but a revamped version will be on the track next spring.

So, how fast can you get this baby rolling?

It should do, on a good day, about 30 miles an hour.

And how’s it corner?

Really quite well, except you don’t really want to have the power on a sharp turn, because it’ll get up on two wheels.

Has anyone ever hit anything with this car, like, an animal in the road or maybe a … wall?

No, but then, we’re not allowed to go on the road. I tried to get it licensed, but the only problem was I couldn’t get it insured.

Why wouldn’t they insure it?

Because it’s an experimental vehicle.

I had pictured a plug coming out of the back — you just charge the batteries, then?

Yeah, you just take the batteries out and stick them into a regular battery charger.

So it’s not like you plug it in and the lights go out in London?

No, no.

Do you have any idea what it would potentially take to “fill the tank” on this?

Next to nothing, and if we can get the solar cells hooked up, it’ll be free.

Will those work in England?

Yes, because it just takes light, it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight.

At the races, I’m picturing the “Everybody start your engines” moment and it’s totally silent. Is that the case?

There’s a bit of a hum. There’s not much noise — mostly coming from the chain and the drive.

Is it hard to be intimidating without a gas pedal?

Yeah, I guess there isn’t quite the testosterone.

What’s the biggest drawback to having to run on car batteries with a one-gear throttle?

Well … you can’t go slow.

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