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Herriman Journal

Students collaborate to design winning soapbox derby cars

May 26, 2021 12:50PM ● By Jet Burnham

Driver Bella Jeffress chose the right lane for the final race of the Daybreak Soapbox Derby, even though many winners were coming out of the left lane. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The first and third place winning cars in the first Daybreak Soapbox Derby, held April 24, were made by a group of woodworking, auto, graphic design, engineering and art students and teachers from Herriman High School.

Team members included students Bella Jeffress, Emma Jones, Audrey Gribble, Arturo Alvarado, Christian Cluff, Jacob Ball, Noble Suman, Ashinti St. Clair and Lilly Tolman; and Technology and Engineering Instructor Brian Burke, Woodworking Instructor Steve Tanner, Automotive Instructor Larry Farnsworth and CTE Coordinator Julianna Wing.

“We had to build the car, tune the car and design the car, we had to vinyl the car and make it look good and how we wanted it to,” Ball said. “So, it brought in a whole bunch of different elements and people.”

Students built two cars—the white car and the blue car—from kits provided by their sponsor, Mountain America. They developed low-budget, creative ideas for modifying the car and adjusting the alignment and brakes. Instead of purchasing professional weight kits, students got creative to add 78 pounds of weight to their blue car, using chunks of asphalt found on the road near the school and heavy things found in the auto shop.

Most of the work took place on Fridays, when students from various classes could meet to work together to design and modify the cars through trial and error testing.

“We had kids sit in the car and we'd push them down the hallways at school,” Burke said.

Ball said he applied what he’d learned in auto, engineering, woodworking and advanced tech classes to help modify the cars’ aerodynamics, wire the brakes and adjust the steering. 

“We've learned much more hands-on skills,” he said. “In engineering [class], we do little projects, but nothing quite to this scale. So seeing this as an opportunity where we can implement theories into an actual project and actual tasks—it's a big learning experience.”

The students also took the lead on designing the cars’ graphics, competing against business owners who paid for professional wraps to decorate their derby cars.

“We decided that it was better if our students—that they'd be more involved—if they did the design themselves,” Burke said.

Students used school equipment to design, print and cut vinyl graphics—such as the school mascot, a mustang—which they applied after they’d painted the wooden cars.

“There were a lot of challenges, but we still made it work,” said St. Clair, a graphic design student who was working with vinyl for the first time.

The students’ abilities were stretched and they gained new skills while working on the project. Tolman, a graphic design student, said she had some experience with tech design and decided to join the team because it would look good on a college application. She was surprised when she found out it wasn’t just a high school competition.

“From a design perspective, it was kind of daunting to see all those professionally-made cars,” she said. “What I learned was, things that seem daunting at first, often lead to a lot of fun and more opportunities down the road.”

The white car went undefeated and the blue car only lost one race.

“The best part was for them to be able to see their actual car, that product of their design, actually be tested and, in this case, proven to be a winner,” Burke said.

Suman, driver of the blue car, said race day was fun.

“Even though we were only going, like, 5 mph, maybe less, I just felt so exhilarated,” he said. “I felt proud at the end to know that we didn't just succeed in building a car, we built a good car, a car that can actually compete and win.”

Many students are interested in participating in next year’s soapbox derby.

Suman, who was selected as a driver because of his small size, hopes to ‘grow out’ of that job by next year and contribute more of his woodworking skills to the design.

HHS students and staff are proud of their car designs and of their wins. Burke is working with district engineers and maintenance staff to figure out how to display the winning cars where everyone can enjoy them—suspended from the ceiling at the junction of the CTE hall.

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