COAL: 1999 UM Maize Blaze – Everybody Makes Mistakes

The trouble was, we had much too much money.

Not long after arriving to continue my studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I spotted a sign advertising a solar car team interest meeting. My first thought was how fun it would be to drive a solar car, and the only things stopping me being right was that I was completely wrong (and much too big, tall, and heavy to find out in person).

But I didn’t know any of that yet, so I went to the meeting. It was Autumn 1997, and the team were looking to recruit new members. Anyone was welcome, though they had particular interests and specialities they were looking for. Anyone here know anything about Photovoltaic cells? Electric motors? Lighting? Brakes? Batteries? Vehicle regulations? Composites?

Hey, lighting and vehicle regs, that’s meee! And just like that, there I was. Somehow or other I also wound up in charge of batteries, I don’t remember why, but I wasn’t all that cowed by the idea. I did know a thing or two about batteries. Maybe not more than that, but everyone has to start somewhere. And for the matter of that, I’ve started in the middle here, so let me go back and fill in the blanks. The team had a small office on the ground floor of one of the engineering buildings, a giant workspace in the other half of the building that also housed the UM Property Disposition department (where no-longer-wanted office furniture, computer gear, lab equipment, and other suchlike went to be sold off) and a large shop space in Pittsfield Township, a few miles off campus. The aim was to engineer, design, and build a solar-powered car, run it in Sunrayce—a biennial race for cars and teams like this, sponsored by General Motors, EDS, and the US Department of Energy—and then, with a good showing in Sunrayce, go run it in the World Solar Challenge in Australia.

It all sounded like great fun to me, but as I say, we had too much money, so the car turned out poorly. Many of its problems were caused directly or indirectly by prioritising ostentatious displays of wealth and cocksure overconfidence over getting the job done. The thing is, we were the University of Michigan, where the auto industry rains money to grow their engineers.


We had companies lining up to sponsor us either with cash or with parts, supplies, tools, equipment, expertise, facilities—whatever we needed or wanted, we just had to ask. And that, I think, was our undoing: we were well overfed, so we were never really hungry. At Sunrayce ’99, in a 29-team field we were beaten by 16 teams with far smaller budgets and much less access to the North American auto industry.

Right from the start I was something of an anomaly; the team was full of engineering students, while I was in LS&A. I wasn’t the only unusual team member; there was one dude, a nontraditional student quite a bit older than the rest of us, who could (and frequently did) demolish a case of beer, get so drunk he couldn’t steadily stand, plunk himself down at a vertical mill or some other tool, and sit there turning out part after flawless part—somehow without mangling himself in the machine.

Even though I was a lowly Literature-Science-Arts student, my hands-on experience with cars was closer to the high end of the range on the team, and that carried some cred and weight. We built not one but three vehicles: the test chassis, the car, and the trailer. Five if we count outfitting the lead and chase vans. So there was plenty of opportunity for the likes of me, even though my academic program was centred more around words than figures. Still, it was a little weird to be in the position of guest-lecturing a room full of engineering students about batteries one day. My teammates were 90 per cent cool about it or so; they waited until afterward to inform the classroom that I wasn’t an engineering student myself.

The test chassis was exactly that: a rolling welded aluminum and carbon-fibre frame used to test motors and controllers and other parts. We had the run of one of the university stadium’s grounds at night, so the test chassis needed headlamps and a safety beacon. I went to a local parts store, picked up a couple of rectangular sealed beams, someone welded up some aluminum frames to cage them in ,and they got lashed to the front of the chassis. I made up a safety beacon out of a halogen bulb, a flasher, and a few bits of wire. Round and round the stadium the test chassis went, through the night brightly.

The car—the actual solar car—posed more and bigger challenges than the test chassis. We couldn’t just throw parts on it; we had tight packaging and mass constraints, race regulations to comply with, and conflicting needs for various aspects of the thing. It was very much like conceiving and realising a production vehicle, which was sort of the point.

But despite all those constraints and conflicts and regulations, there was still often more than one way to do whatever was at hand. For example: turn blinkers. The race was to be run on public roadways, so the car had to have stop lights as well as front and rear turn signals. The actual light units, front and rear, were provided on a sponsorship basis by some sketchy outfit called of Daniel Stern Lighting. The front ones were VW turn signal repeaters, while the rears were wide, low-profile central stop lights intended for incorporation into spoilers; all made by Hella. Okeh, but there was some intra-team kerfuffle about how to control them. A few of the team members debated whether to use an oscillator or a flip-flop or some other kind of circuit I don’t remember with a sonolert or other annunciator and a switching logic board to control and indicate the turn signals. They were worried about having to find a place for four lights on the razor-thin rear of the car, which Aero/Body would not agree to unless absolutely every other option had been studied and rejected. So they were designing ever-more-complex circuits to have the brake lights double as turn blinkers.

I excused myself and drove to the nearby auto parts store, where I fetched a particular 2-pin turn signal flasher for $7. Drove back and tossed it on the table, where it garnered some blinks and stares of incomprehension. I picked up the dry marker and drew a simple circuit on the whiteboard: the lamps’ feed wires were to be hot full-time, and left and right A/B toggle switches would select between two ground paths: one via the stop light switch on the brake pedal (only for the rears), and the other via the turn signal flasher (fronts and rears). There was a fair amount of doubt, but they wired it up and the system worked fine. Even had a nice, loud click audible to the driver. How many days and dollars would’ve been taken up designing and debugging a complicated circuit and bypass arrangement to do exactly the same thing? I guess more than the 45 minutes and $7.

Underexposed shot of the Team Yell (“Fight like hell!”)

All the other teams used pickup trucks or Suburbans to pull Haulmark or Wells-Cargo type trailers just big enough for their cars, but we were the University of Michigan, so ours was a semi-truck type, a 48-foot box on wheels. It had exterior speakers wired up so we could play the UM football fight song loud enough for all the rest of the teams to hear, which I thought was unseemly and tacky and nobody cared to hear my thoughts on the matter.

The trailer with the car compartment built, but no liftgate or international-spec lighting…yet!

We built a full machine shop into it, with a special compartment for the car in the aft lower deck. We built a powered liftgate large enough to accommodate the entire car, then lift it up to be rolled into its berth, then fold up vertically to form the rearmost wall of the trailer. For roadside safety, the shop door was on the starboard side of the trailer box. The trailer and its contents were powered by a trio of generators with Briggs & Stratton 2-cylinder engines, all in an underslung housing made out of diamondplate and angle iron.

The Chief Engineer used threaded black iron pipe to create a rather nice six-into-three-into-one exhaust system for the generators, with the single 2″ common pipe passing through the forward wall of the housing. But the niceness didn’t survive the trip through the wall—to the threaded end of the 2″ iron pipe he clamped a 90° automotive exhaust elbow, with the other end pointed starboard. To this he clamped an automotive muffler. The tailspout was a plain straight pipe about 6″ long, ending about a foot away from the shop door.

Eventually, once we were on the road and in the race, machine shop users started complaining of persistent headaches when using the shop. It hadn’t shown up as a problem before, because why use the trailer shop when the much bigger homebase shop was available? I got in one of the vans, drove to an auto parts store, and picked up some elbows and lengths of plain exhaust pipe, some hangers, and a downturn tailspout. Back on site, I removed the straight tailspout and rotated the muffler-and-elbow counterclockwise about the headpipe through an angle of 135° so the muffler outlet was looking down at about 45° on the port side. I ran straight pipe down to just inside the lower corner of the box, then a 90° elbow exiting rearward, then a length of pipe running rearward, then a 45° elbow drafting outward from the lower corner of the box, and capped it off with the downturn tailspout, well away from any air access point to the inside of the trailer. The machine shop got a lot quieter and the headaches went away.

That wasn’t my only involvement with the trailer, either. It needed an exterior lighting system that would meet both US and Australian regulations, as we really had our eyes on that Australian race, and we really had the means to ship the entire freakin’ 48-foot trailer halfway round the globe. So I went on a great big shopping spree, extra-fun because it wasn’t my money I was spending for thirty-three part numbers and a hundred and thirty-eight items. The new rear lights went on the outside surface of the liftgate.

There was some astonishment one night when I fetched a tube of RTV silicone and used it to seal something or other back there—maybe a wire access chamber or something. I certainly wasn’t the only one on the team who knew about RTV silicone, but I was the only one in that group that night: look here, he’s got some kind of miracle: squeezable goop in a tube that turns into actual rubber if it’s left alone awhile! This is not me claiming to be the only smarty on a team of idjits; I wasn’t and they weren’t. But it might’ve been good if there had been some attempt at a formal, organised exchange of knowledge rather than its ad hoc distribution, too thick in some places and way too thin elsewhere. Keep the RTV in mind; we’ll be back to it in a bit.

At one point during the car’s construction, we needed a big roll of gluey carbon fibre fabric in a big hurry. The Project Manager decided we should go fetch the roll we needed from the maker in Oklahoma, rather than having them quick-send it up to us—because reasons. I cannot remember and certainly cannot imagine what these reasons might have been. It couldn’t have been a balk at the expense of fast shipping for a heavy, bulky item; we had accounts with all the major shipping carriers, so we could’ve just whipped out one of the team credit cards and had the carbon fibre at our shop in a day or two, but instead three of us would go fetch it in a 30-hour round-trip drive.

The motor pool issued us an almost new ’98 Plymouth Voyager. I showed up at the shop at 7:20 on Tuesday morning, ready to go; we were meant to leave at 7:30. The first thing the Project Manager said to me when I stepped out of the car: “Daniel! You’re here! Great! What’s a 12 and a 31 mean?”. Eh? He gestured towards the Voyager and said “12 and 31! What’s a 12 and a 31?” Oh, that. I had taught him how to pull the trouble codes on his ’90 Spirit and I guess he’d done it on the van, now, because when he’d started it that morning the Check Engine light came on and wouldn’t go off. I was the closest we had to a resident Chryco tech (and I also hadn’t got enough sleep or had any coffee, back when I was severely addicted to the stuff, so this command performance didn’t improve my mood).

12: Start of codes, disregard. 31: open or short circuit to the canister purge solenoid. I reseated the purge solenoid plug and figured I’d reboot the computer; I disconnected the battery and used the 15 minutes to remove the el-strippo van’s FM-AM radio and replace it with the Infinity CD/Cassette deck from my Spirit R/T. Reconnected the battery: no more CEL, and after some gasping and skipping from the 3.0 as the computer relearned its purpose in life, everything was fine and we had selectable tunes, too. Ducky.

We finally left town at 10:30. Heather and/or Michelle had the idea to stop for lunch in Chicago so we could get actual, real Chicago pizza; resentment at the PM and teammates who’d sent us on this dumb errand made it seem like a good idea despite the urgent time pressure. Our maps and printed directions were equally but differently rotten (remember life before nav?), so we went much farther out of our way than we should have, but we did eventually make it to Uno’s. And then, gorked out of our gourds on gutbomb pizza, we decided it would be prudent not to tempt fate by getting back on the interstate until our food comas would lift. At least that’s how we rationalised heading over to American Science & Surplus . Am Sci & Surp is always worth it; we spent nearly two hours and many dollars there.

All in all we lost many hours eating pizza, buying schwag, and getting stuck in Chicagoland traffic, which ate up the time we ought to have used sleeping at a motel that night. So we drove in shifts all through the night, and finally pulled off the road around 4 in the morning for a failed attempt at some sleep. Couple hours later, back on the road we went, on a diet of C-rations (“C” for Convenience store, “C” for Crap, “C” for listening to every CD for the second or third time).

We made it to Tulsa at around 8:00 on Wednesday, but weren’t due to pick up our roll of thermal-curing carbon fibre until 9:00, so we stopped for breakfast. After a meal somewhat resembling eggs, grits, toast and Minute-Maid, down the road we went to Advanced Composites Group to pick up our very perishable carbon fibre, which they’d triple-packed: “We used regular ice packs instead of dry ice ’cause you’re carrying it in a passenger vehicle and we didn’t think you’d want it to fill up with CO2 while you’re trying to drive, so you’re going to have to scoot because regular ice isn’t as cold and the clock’s tickin’ on this stuff”. Nice of them to consider our oxygen requirements, but the triple-packed box was too big to fit crosswise in the cargo area of the Voyager. We had to remove the middle Easy Out Roller Seat (Stow-n-Go was still in the future) and put it sideways along the left side of the van, facing the box of carbon fibre along the right side.

So: three occupants in a van with two anchored seats with seat belts. The unsafety and illegality didn’t really faze us much, consistent with the nature of being in our early 20s, but while I had some experience driving precariously-loaded vehicles, Michelle did not. Inertia and centripetal force and suchlike really matter in a situation like that, so you have to do things like slow the eff down when going around tight curves and cresting little hillocks and otherwise like that. In the unanchored back seat, without any seat belt, I was mentally listing all the marvelous physics classes Michelle could maybe take if we made it back alive, the odds of which were worsening out loud as our nonexistent-and-trending-negative allotted time to complete the mission meant driving at 85-95 mph wherever it was even a little bit possible. The human brain does not finish wiring itself up until one’s mid-20s, and one of the last things to come online is the kind of long-term thinking that processes risks and consequences. Fortunately we didn’t lose that gamble that time, but.

I was pretty surly by about mid-Wednesday. Good thing Heather and Michelle were able to carry on intelligent and interesting conversation, otherwise I’d’ve gone insane. To make the best of a suboptimal situation I stripped off my shirt and kicked off my shoes, leaned back in the sideways bench seat, donned the big black cowboy hat I seem to have favoured back then to keep the sun out my eyes, and put my feet up on the carbon fibre box. To an outside observer it probably looked like I was naked; I got some surprised looks from inside other vehicles: shock from Gladys Kravitz types, curiosity from kids, smiles and waves from the occasional bearish type, and a full-on Warner Bros cartoon-spec aWHOOga! double-take from a dude on a Harley.

Me outside the Solar Car office, 1998

We stopped in Indiana for gasoline and fireworks (early 20s…), and I drove the final 350-mile leg of the trip. It got dark, and that van’s notoriously useless headlamps sure as hell didn’t help. Driving far beyond bedtime got very uncomfortable—eyes unable to focus, hands unsteady on the wheel. Then it got surreal, and then psychedelic as my mind started playing open-eyed dreams. I saw phantom cars pulling out in front of me, trees became trucks, road signs started saying things other than they said, lane markers became meaningless. I started seeing bridges and other cop hangouts that weren’t there, I lost depth perception, and I got this creepy feeling that the van was stationary while the road was moving underneath. The only thing that kept me behind the wheel was knowing that Heather and Michelle were in worse shape.

We finally pulled in at the shop around 2:00 AM on Thursday. The whole team were there waiting to start laying up the composites upon unloading the carbon fibre. We got no “thanks” from the PM, which prompted me to edit what I wanted to say to him down to “Y’know, if we simply report to the team right now what we’ll be doing tomorrow, we can go sleep instead of having the morning meeting at 7:00″. The PM’s insufferably cheery response was thoughtless and tonedeaf: “Oh-ho! But part of the point of that meeting is to get you awake so you can do what you’re doing!”. He was big on programs with names like “LeaderShape”.

Well, goshdangit, y’know, in my early 20s whenever I was really tired and peeved off, I was sometimes sort of extra likely to accidentally do clumsy things like kick the phone off the hook and turn off my pager and forget to set my alarm clock. So wouldn’t you just know it, I missed the dang ol’ 7:00 meeting, darnit. When I woke at 9:30, it was definitely the morning after the night before; my eyes looked like boiled lobsters and my throat felt like 40-grit.

Our batteries were made of stainless-encased NiMH cells like this Prius item.

Meanwhile, the teammates—future engineers, all—who’d cocked up cooking the first chassis so the shock mount pushed through and destroyed the entire chassis, necessitating a complete refabrication (oh yeah, that was what set all these monkeyshines into motion), and who’d had such very important top urgent immediate need for this replacement carbon fibre? Turns out they hadn’t finished cocking up: while we were on the road between Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor via Tulsa, they were out watching Star Wars instead of fixing the cracked chassis moulds, so now they still had to do that before they could use them to lay up the composites, which made them miss the curing oven time slot a corporation had donated. They had the nerve to show up seven hours late, whereupon Bizcorp Companyco Amalgamated Industries said something to the effect of “LOLnope”. So now the laid up chassis was room-temperature curing—very, very bad!—and so there was frantic phonecalling to try to find right-now availability of a suitably large curing oven. Ford came through on that one.

I don’t recall when in all of this I reinstalled the van’s radio and took back my Infinity deck, but I did. And guess what else I did: pissed away five figures’ worth of today’s dollars because I wasn’t paying attention. The ’99 race was the first one to allow other than lead-acid batteries; NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries were newly permitted. Being the University of Michigan, of course we would be running the newest and best technology. One of the battery companies sponsored (i.e., gave) us our custom-made NiMH batteries. Each was made of a series of cells joined by flat-woven stranded straps like this:

I don’t sturdily remember, but I think the car took six of the custom-made batteries, each with seven cells. Nominal cell voltage of 2v, nominal battery voltage of 14v, and nominal pack voltage of 84v. Each battery cost about $6,000 in 1998. Another company had sponsored (given) us a top-of-the-line battery charging and testing machine, which we built into the cleanroom at our shop space.

During the systems engineering phase of the project, we did an enormous amount of battery testing, which meant charging and discharging at a wide range of rates and temperatures. We built a box into which one of our batteries would very tightly fit. There was a fan at the bottom of the box to draw cooling air down past the cells, and it was all done to very close tolerances because that’s how the batteries would be installed in the car, and we needed to know how much airflow would be needed to keep the batteries below their critical temperature of 50°C (122°F).

So last thing at night, a battery was put into the forced ventillation box in the charging rig in the cleanroom and left to undergo a discharge at whatever rate we were testing, followed by a tapered-rate charge-up. Mostly this was my responsibility. Mostly it went fine, until the night it didn’t. The primary battery ventillator fan had been taken offline and its pilot light on the control panel had been disabled by one of the other engineers during a systems check earlier in the day. He should’ve put them back, but didn’t. I should’ve noticed, but didn’t.

And so in the middle of the night, my phone rang. It was an old bakelite Automatic Electric № 40—very loud and without provisions for any kind of “ringer off” or “do not disturb” mode:

So I woke up in a hurry. There had been an incident in the cleanroom: the battery had exceeded 50°C and begun venting gas violently—it sounded like rifle shots, according to aero/body engineers who were working in the adjacent machine shop. There was frantic drama, and a fire was averted. The expensive-but-free charging rig sustained serious heat damage, as did the stainless steel battery cell casings, and the $6,000 battery was wrecked. There was a hell of a hydroxide mess to clean up, and the university Hazmat team had to be called in with a special cleanup kit. So if you thought I was going to claim to be the only one on the team who didn’t mess up…no.

But we were the University of Michigan, so all we had to do was call money and daddy. The battery company sent us a replacement; the test-and-charge equipment company swooped in and swapped out the rig, and onward we forged. Minimal muss, finite fuss, and no budgetary badness.

We revealed the car in a big, fancy ceremony there in Michigan. Music, speeches, etc. My folks flew in, and Bill Weertman and his wife drove down the highway to see it.

Bill—Chrysler’s longtime Chief Engine Engineer—and I had been friends ever since I’d cold-called him from Denver after finding his name on the Slant-6 engine patent some years before, and we had a growing collection of this kind of photo:

At the unveiling, we expanded the collection again:

The start of the race was a big, festive event on a plaza in Washington DC. All the teams gathered, and many parents. More speeches and festivities. My folks were there, too, and my aunt and uncle who lived nearby in Maryland. All that was fun.

Markedly less fun was when the stop lights on our car flunked inspection. Aero/Body had recessed them forward of the trailing edge, and covered them and their recesses with clear plastic. The scrutineers said they couldn’t be seen out to the required 45 degrees, so we scrambled to cobble up some kind of bodge to increase their visibility angles without spoiling the aerodynamics of the body. By and by, off we went on a nine-day race to Florida.

The official account of the 1999 UM car is a paragraph long, and it says the team built their own solar panel array completely in-house, which led to power issues during the race. That’s one way of saying it; here’s another: y’member the amazement my use of RTV silicone generated? The thing about goop in a tube that turns into rubber is that there are about as many kinds of it as there are named shrimp dishes in “Forrest Gump”. There’s goop optimised for setting windshields, goop for sealing oil, for sealing transmission fluid, for sealing grease, coolant, water, gasoline, for caulking bathtubs, for sealing windows, for insulating wires, for fixing shoes—you name it. They are interchangeable to a limited degree, and that limitation is disregarded at peril of wrecking the job.

So it might have been best if whoever was tasked with selecting an adhesive to mount the solar cells to the car body had put more into it than just heading over to Home Depot and picking up a case of whatever random caulk came to hand. I’m sure if the caulk they bought had been used as intended, it’d’ve done fine.

But we hadn’t built a solar bathtub, or at least we hadn’t meant to. Bathtubs generally don’t know or care if their caulk is conductive when wet once cured, but solar cell arrays are rather pickier on that point. And you want to believe that caulk got wet and stayed that way; there was rain on most of the race’s nine days. Our car took on numerous gallons of water (like, from the outside to the inside of this solar cell-bodied car). Zzt! Shorted-out solar cells have a tendency not to deliver much power.

So during one particularly drenching day, we were crawling along the sparsely-populated interstate: lead van (“Lead”), solar car, chase van (“Chase”), all doing maybe 15 mph as the waterlogged car struggled under the dim skies. The project Manager drove Chase, a V10 Ford E-Series running two beacon bars each with multiple strobe tubes inside, the defoggers and wipers on high, the headlamps on, two high-ampacity inverters, three computers with CRT screens, radiotelemetry gear, and a cube fridge. This he did in Drive, not First, for long enough that Chase’s battery went completely flat. In rural Georgia—Toccoa, to be exact—on a Friday afternoon.

Race rules specified that each team had to have that caravan—lead, car, chase—at all times, so we had to pull over. Lead van, chase van, and a wet-nosed, inert solar car. Those of us who weren’t actively fussing with the car served as flaggers (including me) wearing fluorescent retroreflective safety vests and waving big fluorescent orange caution flags to alert highway traffic.

Along came a nincompoop in a then-current Ford Explorer. We could tell he was a nincompoop because he stopped (in the left lane of the interstate, mind you), rolled down his passenger window, and went “Yew cain’ jes’ stawp awf’n the road lack thet, wayvin’ thim ornge flaygs…they aspozeda be riyed flaygs, nawt ornge wuns!” (for those not fluent in Southern: “You can’t just stop off the road like that, waving those orange flags; they’re supposed to be red flags, not orange ones!”).

The speed limit on that stretch was at least 65, and traffic was approaching about half a mile behind the Explorer, i.e., about 25 seconds away. All of us were frantically hollering at him to get moving, get going or get off the road, and he was just sitting there, transmission in Park, going “ah neh-oh, butchyew cain’ jes’ stop off’n th’ road lack thet, wayvin’ thim ornge flaygs! You s’pozeda have riyed flaygs!”. By some miracle nobody was killed or hurt and no property damage occurred when the traffic caught up with him, but there was plenty of honking and some tire squealing.

We then proceeded to get even more soaked, by a local grudge run by a good ol’ boy who even kept a few metric screwdrivers up yonder awn th’ wall in case if one o’ them furrin cars might could need work. Charged us $300+ for an alternator rebuild which may or may not have happened or been needed—you’re the judge. While he was busy “rebuilding the alternator” (i.e., charging up the battery), we went walking to see what was to see in Toccoa.

First thing we wanted to see was a telephone; celphones were a thing in 1999, but not yet in Toccoa. We had on our UM Solar Car Team raingear, all blue and –yellow– maize, and we ducked into the bank to see if we could use their phone. One of the tellers went “Eeeeee! Mah meemaw seen y’all on teevee! Y’all cum gitta loda theeyis; these gazzur thim sowluh cah keeyids!” (“Golly! My grandmother saw your team on television. Hey, coworkers, gather around; this is that solar car team”). Yes, we could use their phone.

I don’t remember the details of our exodus from Toccoa. It took awhile, and early on we resigned ourselves to watching hours tick by without solar-car mobility. It seemed like the kind of place one generally doesn’t escape.

At one point a team member started a terrific little hydraulic fluid fire at the back of the trailer with a wrench on the positive terminal of the liftgate’s big 24-volt battery; as soon as it touched the diamondplate battery box, it welded itself into place and began behaving like a very large light bulb filament. That day he learnt why you always disconnect the negative first.

Not long after that, my involvement was abruptly cut off short: my father’s lymphoma had worsened and I hurried back to Denver, guessing—correctly, as it turned out—that if I didn’t, I’d never again have the chance. By that point in the race, tensions were high in the team and there wasn’t much fun being had. There was a lot of blame being thrown around. In fact we were all more or less equally at fault. We had too much money, too much luxury, way too much sense of entitlement, not enough hunger, not enough incentive, and we were busily getting experience just after we needed it.

I kept in touch with friends on the team. After the American race ended with our car in 16th place, the group went back to Michigan to lick wounds and rebuild the car for the Australian race. During that effort, one team member burned the workshop down by putting an item in the high-temperature composites curing oven last thing at night, then shutting off the lights and leaving the empty shop instead of babysitting the cure oven in accord with the rules. By 5AM there was scarcely anything left. I think a few other businesses in the complex were also severely damaged; our workspace had a whole lot of highly inflammable stuff in it. If I remember correctly, the new body tooling crashed down from the second floor of the space and was completely destroyed.

That fire wasn’t final, because money. The UM team came in ninth in Australia, out of 40 cars that started and 28 that finished. Our car was on display at the Boston Museum of Science for awhile; I don’t know what became of it after that. The PM, I guess he got suitably LeaderShaped; eventually he wound up conning nuclear submarines for the US Navy.

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