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Tech minded student builds stock car of his dreams

by Matthew Bramlett | news@claremont-courier.com

Listening to Nahoa Ortega talk about the intricacies of building a stock car from scratch, it would be easy to confuse the 11-year-old boy for a seasoned mechanic.

Nahoa is part of a team of STEM-minded kids designing a mock NASCAR racecar. The program is part of the Ten80 racing competition and Engineering for Kids.

Nahoa and his father, Rosario Ortega, first heard about Engineering for Kids while looking for programs for Nahoa at the Claremont Club in September 2019. Nahoa is homeschooled, and Mr. Ortega was looking for programs his son could be a part of where he can learn and still socialize with kids his age.

Looking through the exhaustive list of programs was overwhelming, Nahoa said, but the racing program stood out.

“This looked like it will challenge me and still allow me to have fun,” he said.

Nahoa’s team, the “Dragon Designers,” is a ragtag team of pint-sized STEM enthusiasts. The team was given a remote-controlled, one-tenth scale mock NASCAR and told to design it however they wanted to make it the fastest car on the track.

The team meets twice a week, going over the intricacies of building and augmenting the car. All the kids on the team are homeschooled like Nahoa, but the program is open to all kids, according to Herman Kreiman of Engineering for Kids.

The car comes ready to run, and the students are taught about how to use data to make design decisions, as opposed to basic “build” directions, Ten80 says. Ultimately, students rebuild the car using new parts.

But the program is not only about working on cars, Mr. Kreiman said. They create and run an entire mock NASCAR team, and the students are taught marketing and business savvy.

“They modify it however they want, they take data and do a bunch of tests on the car just like a real NASCAR team would,” Mr. Kreiman said.

Students design logos and color schemes, and are also taught a 30-second elevator pitch, much like what you would see on the hit show “Shark Tank,” Mr. Kreiman said.

The students also pitch their idea to real businesses in town for sponsorships in return for the business’ logo on the car.

The students become certified in three areas of race engineering: problem solving, driving through data and mechanical & electrical systems.

Nahoa said the team gave the car new and faster tires, as well as a new grip, among other design improvements.

“We needed more powerful and reliable batteries,” Nahoa said. “Sometimes the batteries would run out.”

It helped that Nahoa’s uncle was an expert in this field, and he gave Nahoa and his team a helping hand throughout the design and build process, Mr. Ortega said.

The car and the team were then put to the test during the Ten80 regional championship in Fontana on December 14, 2019. Around 45 teams were competing from around the area, Mr. Kreiman said.

The teams were given three races to compete in, and the team with the car that ran the most laps within a five-minute period would win the race, Nahoa said. The teams were also judged on how well the students ran their mock NASCAR business.

Nahoa’s team was cruising, handily winning the first two races. It seemed like they would achieve a clean sweep.

But in the third race, the team suffered a setback that most NASCAR pit crews knew all too well—the differential broke, causing the wheels to stop spinning.

But what saved the team and qualified them for the finals was the business end of the project—Nahoa said his team’s design was the best out of the group.

“His team had the best business presentation out of the entire league,” Mr. Kreiman said.

Nahoa said he was excited for a chance to race against the top 150-200 teams in the nation, but the team is looking for donations to help them get there.

The car they were given for the national championship is 100 percent stock parts, and the team is looking for donations from the community to help them build the fastest car in the country. 

The goal is to raise $5,000 for the kids before the national championship on April 25. To donate online, visit www.gofundme.com/dragondesigners.

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