Record-breaking electric dragster made in Muskegon

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Associated Press

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 7:01 AM

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — A new world record set last month by a dragster built by Muskegon Community College students is drawing more attention to the college's commitment to alternative energy research.

"Short Circuit" isn't just any dragster. It's an electric dragster that set a world record by racing at a top speed of 109 mph down a ¼-mile drag strip in 12.369 seconds, according to The Muskegon Chronicle ( http://bit.ly/1fDPJ3f ).

"We've got some real big bragging rights," said Al Thomas, the dragster's team manager. "Very few electric cars go 100 miles an hour."

The dragster, built and maintained by students in the college's automotive technology program and the MCC Motorsports Club, is just one of MCC's small fleet of vehicles powered by alternative energy sources.

There's also a 1988 superstock Ford Mustang dubbed "White Lightning" that runs on ethanol that students produce themselves, and a 1996 Ford Ranger pickup truck that runs on biodiesel that students also make.

"We're big into alternative energy," said Thomas, who heads up the college's automotive technology program.

MCC is getting noticed for its work on alternative energy. It recently landed a national biofuel conference because of its emphasis on student research into alternative energy, which is especially rare for community college students. Some of that research occurs at the Silver Creek Energy lab at the former wastewater treatment facility in Whitehall Township, which MCC operates in conjunction with Erdman Holdings and includes an anaerobic biodigester. Students also get experience working with the on-campus wind and solar power plants.

And automotive students working on Short Circuit and the college's other alternative energy vehicles are getting hands-on experience in that growing segment of the automobile industry.

"We're at a point in time in the world where electric vehicles are really gaining momentum," Thomas said.

Formula One Racing is about to launch a racing series with electric "Formula E" cars, and an electric version of the BIGFOOT original monster truck recently came on the scene. There's even an electric airplane and electric motorcycles that travel over 200 mph.

"A lot of people think an electric vehicle is a golf cart, and it's no longer that way," Thomas said. "It's coming of age."

Short Circuit was built with an eye toward breaking records, and it topped the 48-volt world record at a speed of about 50 mph in 2011, Thomas said.

"We purposely set out to break a more easily exploitable world record," Thomas said.

After that world record was broken, sponsors came "out of the woodwork" and provided "a very expensive" battery management system and electric motor that the MCC program would not have otherwise been able to afford, he said.

And so the MCC Motorsports Club began reconfiguring the car with an eye on the 10-year-old, 192-volt record of 12.442 seconds with a maximum speed of 101 mph.

"Other people have attempted to break it over the last 10 years, and it's been a pretty steadfast record," Thomas said.

On Oct. 25, with MCC Adjunct Instructor Jeff Montella behind the wheel, the record was broken on a cold and slick track at the Milan Dragway near Detroit. The tires spun for the first 60 feet, but Montella, skimming along just 2 inches above the pavement, drove Short Circuit and MCC into the record books.

"It was 40 degrees out with no traction," Thomas said. "The tires were cold. We were cold. But we made two passes that were fast enough to set the world record. We made two passes and that was it."

That was it, for now. Next spring, the Motorsports Club plans to break its own record with Short Circuit. Thomas said he expects to shave more than a full second off the 12.369-second record.

"We're playing with the big boys," Thomas said. "And we'll set the bar pretty high."

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Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, http://www.mlive.com/muskegon

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Muskegon Chronicle.

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