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‘Ladies, start your engines’

Magnificat High School, Rocky River, OH, discovers the physics and the fun in CO2 dragsters

Published December 10, 2015

ROCKY RIVER, OH – Sure, CO2 dragsters are cool. They’re fast, and they can help students understand the relationship among concepts such as mass, drag, and velocity. But here’s the real test: Can the sleek dragsters catch the attention of and build the knowledge base in a high school honors physics class – at an all-girls Catholic school, no less?

Yes! Pitsco’s Science of Speed – as the CO2 dragster activity is fast coming to be known – is a raging success with this new demographic if recent races at Bluestreak Motor Speedway inside Magnificat High School in Rocky River, Ohio, are an accurate barometer.

Teacher Carolyn Wanzor has a reputation for challenging her advanced Honors Physics students, and she wanted to graduate from the mousetrap vehicles activity to something a bit more sophisticated with a wow factor.

Aiding her mission was a donation from a local software executive. “He generously donated quite a bit of money to the Honors Physics program,” Wanzor said, adding, “I saw CO2 cars, and I was like, ‘This is fun. How would I race it?’ . . . I Google searched ‘CO2-powered car tracks,’ and of course Pitsco was the first on the list.”

Discovering Pitsco Education’s broad range of several hundred dragster components from custom wheels to a variety of car kits to wind tunnels, an elevated track, and start/finish systems, Wanzor knew she had discovered everything needed to give her students a complete, exciting, and highly educational experience.

Her initial purchase included all the essentials to get started with CO2 drag racing: the 65-foot FasTrak Elevated Racetrack, the Impulse G3 Race System, a Precut Dragster 32-Pack, and a case of 8-gram CO2 cartridges. She explained her choice of precut dragsters (predrilled axle holes and rough-cut bodies) over the raw basswood or balsa wood blanks.

“I got the precut dragsters because it’s not an engineering class. It’s not a class where we have power equipment, and we don’t have a wood shop here. I wanted to go with something that was a little more done,” Wanzor explained.

The precut dragsters don’t require much shaping beyond basic sanding and smoothing, but they do allow for custom design and decorating – much to the delight of the 60 high school girls involved in the activity.

“There’s going to be an aesthetics element to this as well, of course. This is an all-girls school,” Wanzor said. “We have a collaboration with American Greetings, which has its world headquarters in (nearby) Cleveland. They’re going to judge the girls’ cars on aesthetics.”

Even though the girls were excited about challenging for the title of fastest car, the more coveted crown might be “most cool and creative car.” “They love to make things pretty,” Wanzor said. “I just wanted to make it something where, yes, it needs to go fast, but it needs to look good as well. Presentation, presentation, presentation. Mags just does everything up like that.”

The aesthetics judging by some of the greeting card company’s talented artists was scheduled to take place in December, but the big race day was held in early October in a spacious lobby outside Magnificat’s performing arts center – a full-fledged extravaganza replete with race officials, a bracket showing head-tohead performances, concessions for the fans, and plenty of heartpumping excitement.

“It was a blast and went over exceptionally well,” Wanzor said. “Even two local newspapers came in with reporters to cover the event!”

By going all out and following some of the race day suggestions outlined in Pitsco’s Science of Speed teacher’s guide for the full-fledged STEM dragster activity, Wanzor and her students put on an event that has the makings of an annual or even semiannual affair. Maybe it’ll never grow as large as that other race over at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but on the education racing circuit, Bluestreak Motor Speedway is well on its way to becoming a featured venue.

“I’ve always been more of a traditional teacher, and this [using the T-Bot® II to teach Algebra 2] got me out of my comfort zone. But this generation of kids, if you do not make that application, they’re doing it just because I’m assigning it. So now they’re making the connection. . . . They have something to tie it back to.”

– Beatrice Villarreal, algebra teacher, Somerset High School, Somerset, Texas

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