Only the smell of exhaust and burnt rubber was missing Saturday afternoon in Riverdale as miniature race cars zoomed by and spun out of control on a track built out of fire hose and gutter pipe.
For 45 children who competed in the Ten80 Race Car Challenge organized by the community-based nonprofit GapBuster, Inc., the event capped off six weeks of intense preparation, organizers said. During that time, the children learned to modify and operate the radio-controlled cars, develop a marketing plan and find sponsors as part of the organization’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, or S.T.E.A.M, summer camp.
But on the day of the event, some of the young competitors learned that things don’t always go as planned.
“My team is struggling because our engines and motor have problems ... it’s a big mess,” said Nicholas Spicer, 11, of Riverdale Park as he and fellow members of the All Stars Engineering team tried to replace the parts of a malfunctioning car halfway through the competition. “But I still have faith.”
The competition between six teams from GapBuster and two teams from the Fort Washington-based Metro Warriors STEM Organization included a five-minute speed race, a 15-minute endurance race and a pit crew challenge, in which teams demonstrated engineering projects by taking the cars apart and putting them back together, said Yvette Butler, executive director of GapBuster.
Butler said the idea behind the Ten80 racing program, which she incorporated into the curriculum last year, is to give children training in science, technology as well as language arts.
The program includes working on the motors of the miniature cars, developing a marketing strategy and raising money and making presentations.
“In the next decade, the majority of the jobs are going to be in the S.T.E.A.M. fields,” Butler said. “We have to make sure our kids are able to compete.”
And the project doesn’t end just because summer camp is over. Butler said students are now trying to raise money to compete in a national Ten80 competition in Anaheim, Calif. in March.
Ten80 Education, which makes the miniature cars and holds nationwide races that involve about 80,000 participants, is an organization focused on advancing science and engineering education for youth, according to representatives who were present at the GapBuster event.
“I think it’s an awesome program,” said Brittney Palmer, 26, of Hyattsville, who came to see her younger brother, Jordan Colquitt, 12, compete. “It’s so great for the kids...to see it in action and to show it off to their families.”
Jordan, of Riverdale, who was in charge of developing a presentation and finding advertisers for the Black Diamond team, ended up winning first place for his team in the five-minute race event.
“I just calmed down, and when I was doing a turn I didn’t turn the wheel completely,” Jordan said, explaining his strategy. “I didn’t try to speed through the whole thing.”