Mountain Pointe High School hosted the Phoenix White-flag Invitational on Thursday, a local event that is a part of the racing series by the Ten80 Student Racing Challenge.

Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools both participated in the event, racing a total of 6 cars.

But the day wasn’t all spent on the track. The teams also competed in presentations before judges, local engineers with differing specialties, detailing their preparations, engineering and even marketing.

That’s because Ten80 is about much more than racing RC cars, a hobby shared by many enthusiasts across the country. It’s about focusing students on creative engineering, aerodynamic design and even entrepreneurship.

Terry Stripling, who coordinates events across the country for Ten80, described the impetus and focus of the program. The goal is for students to run an entire racing company, similar to Don Schumacher Racing or Hendrick Motorsports. In fact, the program has partnered with NASCAR in the past, she said.

The National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics League (National STEM League) launched the Ten80 Education program to encourage students to focus on STEM-related projects and learning.

“Our big concept is that we need to add a lot of rigor to the STEM program,” Stripling said.

This included giving students open-source robotics design and programming equipment for innovation contests where participants are allowed to design anything they please.

“We want to give them the tools to innovate on their own,” said Stripling

Quincy Njemanze, a team captain from Mountain Pointe, described running the company aspect of the team as one of the more challenging parts.

“There’s definitely the drama that comes from an organization,” said Njemanze. He added that sometimes it was tough to get people to do the jobs they needed to do.

Michael Henson, from Desert Vista, said the team practiced for the event using an area of polished concrete outside the school to learn how to handle the cars in less-than-ideal conditions.

The surface of the outdoor basketball court on which the track was set up, while unpolished, was no more forgiving. The tiny cars careened out of control; sometimes one at each turn.

All the teams struggled in the early races, tuning their cars in the best-lap event and then keeping their machines going in the 10-minute endurance race.

After the presentations was the pit-stop challenge. Here, the teams had to change all four tires, and the battery, in a head-to-head situation. Oddly, the teams who forsook power tools in favor of adjusting wheel lugs by hand seemed to do the best.

Then, finally, came the grueling 20-minute endurance race. A few cars were retired completely by the end, unable to finish. Everything from controller transmitters to tires challenged the teams as pit crews desperately worked to keep the cars repaired for the track, and drivers tried to stay in the running. The whole scene was surprisingly reminiscent of a professional race.

• Trevor Godfrey is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.

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