Clinch proves 2017 wasn't a fluke with another victory in BMS solar kart challenge

Jeff Bobo • May 13, 2019 at 10:15 PM

ROGERSVILLE — It might have been easy for bigger schools across the region to dismiss tiny Clinch School's 2017 victory in the inaugural Tennessee Solar Go-Kart Challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway as a fluke or an anomaly.

That argument was tested in 2018 when Clinch backed its victory by finishing second at the second BMS Solar Go-Kart Challenge. But any doubt that Clinch School is a true force to be reckoned with was removed last week.

On May 7, the smallest K-12 school in Tennessee with a high school population less than 40 once again defeated much larger schools en route to earning its second victory in three attempts at the BMS Solar Go-Kart Challenge.

The team successfully completed 91 laps in a times endurance race with drivers Hannah Lamb and Jasmine Lyons behind the wheel of their solar powered go-kart.

Their driving expertise was complemented by the fastest pit times ever posted by Clinch's pit crew comprised of Colt Baker, Maleah Bloomer, Christopher Brewer, Hunter Lawson, Levi Middleton, Lane Trent and Logan Wilder.

Coach Joshua Couch said the team worked hard on its kart, as well as on reducing pit stop times, and arrived at Bristol with high expectations.

"Even though Clinch is much smaller than the other schools involved, we have found great success," Couch said. "After making improvements to design that had flaws from the previous year, and working on our pit times, the team was ready to show what they were made of on race day. We knew that we would be competitive among the 12 teams that had showed up to race and hoped that we could emerge winners again. All the eggs were in one basket as only one endurance race would be used to determine the winners."

The goal was to circle as many laps as possible around a single stretch of pit wall within a two hour period.

To accomplish that, they conserved as much energy as possible in the first hour and a half while making mandatory driver changes and pit stops as quickly as possible.

"The first 1.5 hours went like a well-oiled machine with the pit times ranging less than 20 seconds," Couch said. "Then with a half hour left, we increased our speed to 25 mph and the kart stood its ground. The last 10 minutes proved the most exciting. The phrase ‘give it all its got’ was spoken across the radios. During these last few minutes, the team had a 13-second pit stop, reached 37 mph around the oval and tallied at total of 91 laps in two hours."

For the inaugural race in 2017, several area high schools shared a $99,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Education that they used to purchase a gas powered go-kart and convert it to solar powered.

Clinch was excluded from that grant but received sponsorship from Cooper-Standard plant to pay for its go-kart.

The purpose of the competition was to emphasize practical applications for science, technology, engineering, math, physics and problem solving.

The team prepared the solar-powered kart during STEM classes taught by Couch.

"Clinch proved that the first year was not a fluke and the team was elated,” Couch said. “Hopefully now everyone will notice the little gem of a school that is located in the very rural area of Hawkins County atop Clinch Mountain."