San Antonio’s annual electric car race growing fast

Malachi Mercado, 17, a junior at East Central High School, has helped build and race electric cars with his school’s team since he was a freshman. But this year was the most stressful, he said.

The team had trouble with the one-seater’s brakes. They didn’t figure out until weeks before a race in Florida that Mercado would be driving it. The team won the high school division of that race anyway — but then, in San Antonio, the original racetrack’s turns were too tight and the drivers kept spinning out during practices.

East Central nevertheless won the Alamo City Electrathon Race on Thursday, placing first out of 17 school teams, with two cars that each won their design categories.

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“All the hard work paid off,” said Mercado, an aspiring architect. “The design element of both of these cars has definitely got me thinking.”

East Central has now won every year of the ACE Race, which started in 2017 with five teams and has more than tripled in size amid growing interest in energy efficiency and science, technology, engineering and math education.

The race, relocated to the Traders Village shopping area for safer turns, rewards endurance rather than speed. Lead acid batteries fuel the cars, and the winner runs the most laps before exhausting 1,000 watt-hours of electricity.

Cars that go too fast burn out quickly — but those that are too slow don’t complete enough laps.

The South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce sponsors the race, raising money from corporate partners to host it and provide interested schools with stock car kits. The chamber’s president and CEO, Al Arreola Jr., said the competition teaches skills the students can use working on the South Side, where Toyota and CPS Energy, two key sponsors, both have plants and offices.

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The ACE Race now attracts schools from across the region. Teams came from Boerne Independent School District in Kendall County and St. Philip’s College on the East Side. Holmes High School in Northside ISD tied for second place with the Edgewood Fine Arts Academy on the West Side.

“We do want this to become contagious in our market,” Arreola said. “It’s giving these kids firsthand, applicable experience.”

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Each high school or college team has about 20 students, with 10 involved on race day and others in welding or auto body classes helping build the cars.

East Central students modified their stock car to make it more aerodynamic, and they put together a dashboard with a speedometer. The drivers had radios to communicate with teammates who told them how fast to go based on energy readings. Other teammates counted laps and kept track of their standing.

“Every single kid is doing something,” said Forrest Hawthorn, who teaches a course on principles of technology at East Central and sponsors its Electrathon team. “We need more schools to join us. I want to see this expand and get more kids turning wrenches, crunching data, using all their skills.”

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Legacy High School in Southwest ISD won Rookie of the Year status for completing the most laps as a first-year team.

Bob Franz, a part-time teacher in the aviation program at Southwest High School, helped create the local race after sponsoring electric car teams as a teacher in Southern California. Before the Alamo City Electrathon, teams from Southwest ISD had to travel to Pensacola, Fla., to compete, Superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft said.

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“You can learn so much physics and math from this,” Verstuyft said. “That’s what’s so cool.”

Alia Malik covers several school districts and the Alamo Colleges District in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site,, and on our subscriber site, | | Twitter: @AliaAtSAEN



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