The Suncoast Science Center lawn was transformed into a remote control car racetrack and garage March 7 for the fifth annual RC Custom Car Open.
The operation was designed, run and taught by a committee of high school-aged radio-control car enthusiasts whose members learn how to build confidence and develop leadership skills then pass their knowledge on, said Ping Faulhaber, executive director of the Faulhaber Fab Lab.
On race day, volunteers set up an obstacle course filled with hoops, a slowly rising and lowering wall and a dirt path for the remote control cars to race through. They also help design a weekslong series leading up to race day, designed to help kids become a team that races and learns together.
Teammates Maddox McGrath, 14; Jacob Hard, 14; and Chris Demassa, 14, competed in the race with hopes that it would set a path for them to some day join the committee and mentor kids.
Their route to the finish line Saturday was the culmination of weeks of designing, building, learning and working together.
After making it all the way to the Grand Championship, Team Forza was nervous about winning, even on the final turn of the final lap. With Hard at the controls of their gray-and-red car, McGrath said nerves nearly got the best of him until Hard guided the car into the lead. “All right, we got this,” McGrath said.
Team Forza took home the Grand Champion title.
Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences won a $1,000 cash prize as the school with most team registrations.
The annual event welcomed 200 Sarasota and Manatee K-12 students to design, customize and race.
Beginning six weeks before the final race, students are given a chance to use the equipment and resources at the Faulhaber Fab Lab under the instruction of high school volunteers.
“They are given an opportunity to be able to come up with their own ideas to create [their cars, and sometimes] they face the obstacle of their idea not working,” Faulhaber said. “Then they have to be able to pick up and continue going. It’s a great way for them to become future innovators.”
Students are given a basic remote control car, Faulhaber said. Using anything from a 3D printer to a laser cutter, students can create everything from suspension systems to characters to place inside their cars. Only the motors remain untouched.
Taytum French, 13, has participated in the race for four years, and this year she teamed up with her friend Faith Gill, 13.
“We learn from [the volunteers], and then we can do whatever we want,” French said. “This competition and the whole thing of the Fab Lab is that it’s for everyone. There is something everyone can do.”
Under the competitionwide theme of Futuristic, French and Gill sat down to think about what their car should look like. To them, images of a mid-century-designed world filled with bright colors and space age homes came to mind.
Their inspiration was the 1962 cartoon “The Jetsons.” But making it a reality didn’t come without its difficulties.
Cutting out the Jetsons using the laser cutter proved to be the biggest challenge for French and Gill. When designing the shapes, Gill said the lines doubled up, which caused the laser to cut each piece into several shapes rather than a whole piece.
George Jetson kept falling into pieces. Judy Jetson wouldn’t size correctly, and her hair fell off. Astro kept breaking in half.
Although it was stressful and filled with failures, Gill and French said they enjoyed the experience.
“They are learning by doing,” Science Center Board Member Asim Chauhan said. “They learn how to solve problems. They learn teamwork. They become accustomed to challenges and how to overcome them. They learn technology and to not have a fear of it. It’s a learning ground where they can do things without worrying about failing.”