Rubber tires on asphalt.
A 4,200-foot-long, straight stretch of roadway.
And after the final okay from track officials at Mission Raceway Park a collection of current and former automotive shop students and their teacher from Delta Secondary vaulted quietly into Canadian drag racing history on June 30.
But there was no thunderous roar from the engine they had painstakingly put together over the last two years under the guidance of teacher Casey Mynott.
There was wheel spin, plenty of tire smoke and minivan-like acceleration of their 1989 Toyota pick up truck through a series of quarter mile runs all done without burning so much as a drop of gasoline.
Electricity from a pallet full of batteries provided the motivation for Canada’s first electric-powered dragster.
Idea gets rolling
The idea to build the vehicle came to Mynott after getting interested in the small but growing community of electric drag racers on the Interent.
He got a look at what was being done in places south of the border, joined in a few discussion groups, and then presented some videos of electric dragsters to his students.
“They got pretty excited after seeing that,” Mynott said, adding the overall goal was to have a “culminating” project for his class.
“Plus, other high schools have been involved with the drag racing scene and that was a natural progression for me,” Mynott said. “And my sickness, if you will, is a love of knowing everything.”
Unfamiliar with what it would take to convert the Toyota pick up—originally thought to be used as a parts vehicle for his class—to an electric dragster, Mynott began the long task of acquiring parts and the assistance of sponsors to bring the project to life.
“When you remove all the combustion engine stuff, there’s plenty of room,” said Mynott. “Electric motor design is much more simpler. It’s like a giant drill on steroids, if you will.”
Enthusiasm provides drive
What provided the heart and soul for the task was the enthusiasm and commitment of his students.
“The learning has been fantastic and deep in meaning,” Mynott said. “The students have been super engaged. It’s something totally different. We’ve had people coming into class just totally pumped and excited wanting to get involved however they can. And it crosses all the blocks of automotive that we run. It’s gone far beyond just classroom learning and taken on a life of its own.”
One of those who worked on the project for the past two years was Grade 12 student Tony Salas.
“I thought it was kinda cool because it’s something different than other vehicles you see out here. It’s a one-time thing,” he said. “I have learned a lot, definitely a lot of skills and about the technology we’ve put into the vehicle.”
Salas worked on fabricating the battery rack at the rear of the truck which holds 60, 12-volt aviation and military grade batteries that supply the juice to create 450 horsepower and 450-foot-pounds of torque (twisting force).
“That’s a lot for any car,” Mynott said. “That’s like three Honda Civics in power rating. But what’s really neat about electric drive is that the twisting force that goes to tires, you get maximum twisting force zero rpm.”
And the ride is pretty fine.
“It’s like riding a skateboard on brand new pavement,” Mynott said. “It’s glass smooth and it just wants to launch off the line.”
“I’ve showed pictures of the truck to my parents and they’ve said that is absolutely amazing,” Salas said with pride. “It means a lot. I’ve done everything I can to help with this project. I’ve even left some other classes to work on this.”
One student who has come back after graduating to lend a hand on the project is Rod Klatt, 19.
“When I was told that this is what we’re going to be doing I couldn’t really believe it,” said Klatt. “It was a neat project, but to see it being built is a whole other story.”
Klatt was part of a team that worked on the early diagrams for the project and will be studying heavy duty mechanics at BCIT and added he’s proud of being part of Canadian automotive history.
Thanks to a combination of funding from the school district, sponsorships plus donations from the community and industry, the $12,000 to $14,000 cost of the project over the past two years was met.
“When you think of the uniqueness of a vehicle that doesn’t burn one drop of gasoline while it’s running, that’s actually pretty cheap,” Mynott said.
What that, and a lot of hard work in the school’s auto shop, produced was a vehicle that looks to the future of automotive design which does not rely on fossil fuels.
“The automotive industry is moving in this direction and it’s just the beginning,” said Grade 11 student Ian Donaldson. “I’ll be proud of being a part of this and glad to have had the chance to work on this type of project.”
Watching and reporting on the progress of the DSS students was the National Electric Drag Racing Association (nedra.com) which applauded the efforts of the students.
“While the hard work of the build is done, now the fun work can begin in racing and showing off their truck to the public,” said NEDRA president Mike Willmon via email from his home in Alaska. “No doubt they have learned many lessons in auto building in general, but they also have learned some early lessons about the future of transportation. While a typical electric daily driver may not be designed exactly as their dragster, they are able to see what goes into the designs of automobiles and how the different components are used and chosen to meet the design goals.”
While the racing maybe done for the time being, the project continues, said Mynott, who confesses he already has future versions of the vehicle mapped out in his head.
“This project will grow over the next three to five years into a completely different vehicle. It has the potential to be much faster than 12 seconds (over the quarter mile),” Mynott said. “This could be Canada’s premier electric vehicle program, with the right financial support.
“Something really fantastic is going on and I think people want to foster that and see what they can do to keep it moving forward. And I’m totally game. That’s my job, to create opportunities.”