Mason Sermersheim strapped on the seat belt in a formula car the Jasper High School Motorsports Club built before tearing around an empty parking lot on the school’s east side.
After a few laps, the freshman climbed out and another club member climbed in, and every so often the guys tweaked parts of the car, hoping to make it run faster or more efficiently.
The car Sermersheim drove has a max speed between 35 and 45 miles per hour, but the club also has a car that will go double that. The club competes Friday in the New Castle Formula competition where they’ll test the speeds of their cars against those built by students from across Indiana.
Students in the motorsports club design and build the cars, which look similar to the open-wheel cars raced in the Indianapolis 500, according to specifications from the competitions. Often, they end up pulling parts off four-wheelers, dirt bikes or whatever they have lying around, creating a hodgepodge that somehow looks like a car and runs the way they want.
“It makes it hard to get the parts you need sometimes because you’re taking stuff from so many different places,” said Collin Daunhauer, an engineering teacher and the club’s sponsor.
The guys don’t mind the challenge. They dedicate at least two hours a week after school to tinkering with the three formula cars and one super-mileage car that previous members designed a couple years ago. The club has been using the same super-mileage car since junior Austin Hildenbrand joined the club his freshman year.
Unlike the formula cars, the super-mileage car is built for maximum miles per gallon. Hildenbrand unofficially takes the lead on the super-mileage car, making the annual tweaks necessary to keep up with competition regulations for the Super Mileage Challenge hosted by the Indiana Mathematics, Science and Technology Education Alliance at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
He has also driven in the super-mileage competition each year since his freshman year, and he has won the club a trophy each year as well. He’s mastered the art of bringing the car up to its maximum speed of 35 miles per hour, killing the engine and coasting for a while before restarting the engine and maxing out the speed again as he circles the track for 10 laps. Last year, he scored 403 miles per gallon at the competition, not quite enough for first place. This year, though, Hildenbrand finally finished first with 359 miles per gallon, thanks to stormy weather on race day, April 11, as a wet track and high winds drove down the cars’ efficiency.
“It felt pretty good to know all my work paid off,” Hildenbrand said.
At the mileage competition, Hildenbrand is the only one to drive. To win, you need a lighter driver who can fit in the tiny car. At the formula competition, everyone usually gets a chance to drive. This year, junior Cameron Egler will maneuver behind the wheel of a formula car for the first time. Although he’s been in the club since his freshman year, he’s focused on the mileage car. He’s looking forward to driving, but his favorite part of the club is working with his hands and being proud of what he’s worked on.
Sophomore Cody Schnell joined the club as a freshman because his cousin, Marissa Schnell, was a member and urged him to join. Schnell said the cars ran pretty well at the formula competition last year.
“We didn’t throw too many chains,” he said, referring to the chain that connects the engine to the wheel gears. “We were solid.”
He’s expecting the cars to be even better this year, thanks to the adjustments team members have made.
Schnell’s favorite part of the club is the opportunity to be hands-on.
“You get to do a lot of things you don’t normally get to do in school,” Schnell said. “You get to be out in a shop building cars, and you get to drive them around.”