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The need for distance


The question wasn’t how fast but how far?

When Fort High teacher Gord Witherspoon brought his Grade 11 Transport Technology class down to Brainerd, Mn. last week to compete in the Super Mileage Challenge, he had confidence in them.

But he had no idea they would do so well.

“We ended up with the single best run,” he beamed last Friday. “We took out the car on Tuesday morning and on our first run got 500 miles to gallon.

“There were teams there trying to get 200 miles to the gallon all week. It worked flawlessly,” he continued.

And Witherspoon had a reason to be proud. As the only Canadian team to compete in this annual event, which attracts cars from all over the U.S., Fort High held its own against some stiff competition to place third overall out of 25 cars in the modified division.

This marked the first time in four years of participation in the challenge that a Fort High class competed in the modified division (as opposed to the stock division).

But Witherspoon said the class was up to the challenge.

“The kids worked great down there,” he began. “Some worked as a pit crew while others drove the car. It’s great when you consider they hadn’t even test-driven the car before getting down there.”

Competing all day last Tuesday and most of Wednesday, the class came through with a six-run average of 619 miles per gallon.

Despite going well, the event was not without its problems.

“We broke a couple of rear axles, and Wednesday morning, we got a wrong load of fuel in the car--they gave us alcohol rather than gasoline,” recalled Witherspoon.

“It took an hour or two to get it running after that,” he noted.

More than a competition, Witherspoon added the car-building--an end result of a full-year project started by his fall semester grade 12 class--was an exercise in ingenuity.

“The kids had a couple of new design ideas this year. They put air brakes on it, and we tried a variable back pressure on the exhaust,” he noted, giving all the credit to his students.

“Basically, their job is to design it and my job is to give them hints,” he remarked. “If I see something that hasn’t got a hope in heck, I’ll try to steer them away from it but all the ideas were done from brainstorming in class.”

As the students showed off their car that day, it was clear they also were proud of the achievement.

“It was fun,” said Dave Gemmell, a grade 11 student in Witherspoon’s class who helped build--and drive--the car.

“I learned a lot more there than sitting in class,” he reasoned.

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