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Student CO2 cars race toward the future

Published August 30, 2019

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Twenty-three years and going at the same school – that is a respectable teaching career.

But visit Paul Wollenberg’s classroom at Purcell Junior High School in Purcell, Oklahoma. Stand before his Wall of Fame showcasing 20 student-made CO2 dragsters that have given blazing fast performances in the drag racing event at TSA nationals since 2003. Or the Wall of Inspiration showcasing cars with eye-catching designs and cool aesthetics. Now you are looking at more than just a teaching career. You are looking at a legacy.

Every year, a new batch of students stands before the display cases, looking for inspiration for their own CO2 cars, which they will design, build, test, analyze, rebuild, and race. No two dragsters on display are quite alike. The stars of the past mastered the same principles of design but then made them their own. New students who dream of joining the ranks of past winners must believe there is still room for their car on the wall.


In 2019, Jude Leggett and Kash Guthmueller, both Wollenberg’s students, finished in the top three at TSA nationals. Heidi Raley – a student from Buffalo Creek Middle School in Palmetto, Florida – took the first-place spot in overall dragster design, with Jude coming in second and Kash third. Jude finished first on time – his car was fastest, winning the last race against Heidi by the narrow margin of 1/1,000 of a second. However, Heidi came in first overall, combining her own lightning fast car with an excellent presentation and rubric.

For Jude, building a dragster was more than just a fun woodworking project. It connected his hands and imagination to his goals for the future.

“I plan to be an engineer after college,” explains Jude. “Building a dragster helps with the process of becoming an engineer by understanding aerodynamics, learning to put your design on paper, and paying attention to details when building the dragster.”

Kash expresses a similar sentiment. “I can see this event helping me with my future career in architecture because it taught me how to improve my design by paying attention to small details by making it stronger but also being able to make it just as fast.”


Wollenberg understands how the CO2 dragster project can connect both to the past and to the future. His own path to TSA began when he made his own CO2 car as a student in a Computers in Architecture class at Purcell High School. He didn’t compete in TSA, but the seed was planted. After college, he became a technology teacher at his alma mater in Purcell and began with TSA his very first year. He remembers taking his students to the wood shop and working with them to create their cars.

Over time, his approach has evolved. “It has developed as I’ve gone through many years of experience, after exchanging lots of information with other teachers and chatting with them and gaining knowledge from each other,” he explains. He uses Pitsco dragster blanks and performs testing in a Pitsco wind tunnel. And he directs his students to the resources on

Sometimes Wollenberg’s students find themselves in direct competition with other students from the past. In fact, one of those first students who followed him down to the woodshop made a notable car, which Wollenberg kept. For years he showed it off to new students. Two years ago, the daughter of that former student took Wollenberg’s class. She built her own dragster, and as part of a just-for-fun activity, she raced her own car against her father’s car.

Sometimes the struggle students face, however, is with their own past. Students with a poor record in the traditional classroom often arrive with low expectations for themselves. But they can experience a turnaround in a setting that challenges them in a different way that lets them use their hands and brains in unison.

“You have students who aren’t the most involved in their academic classes, but they come to my classroom and they can have success,” says Wollenberg. “They can do things that make their mind work.”

Whatever motivates a student to succeed, the outcome can be a powerful experience of success.

"Competition at Nationals was fun and exciting!” said Jude after winning the race. “There were a lot of dragsters, and I was unsure if I would place with my car. When my teacher told me I won first place, I was very excited!”

That is a memory that will last a lifetime.

“You don’t have to wait until they get to the intermediate grades to start teaching science because they’re very capable, science is very engaging, and it’s high interest for the little ones. It’s fun, and they can do it!”

– Shakeatha Butler, elementary science director, Duval County, Florida

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