Tribune Photo/Daneen Thurman

August 7, 2021

By Austin Cecil
Tribune reporter

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the streets of Raytown, Missouri were met by an impressive display of solar vehicles. The American Solar Challenge is a nationwide team competition where different universities demonstrate their mastery of solar energy. Each team is charged with building one solar car capable of traveling between 1500-2000 miles across the United States.

Photo by Lance Nash

With clear skies and agreeable weather conditions at work, fans from towns near and far gathered to watch the first vehicle’s team cross the starting line. Each solar vehicle is joined by two other cars: a lead car that drives ahead of the solar car, and a chase car, which follows closely behind the solar car.

Tribune Photo/Daneen Thurman Raytown Mayor Michael McDonough (left) visits with Ray Altenberg (far right) and other members of the University of California-Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team (CalSol)

This year, the competition is made up of 9 different teams, with 15 members on each team. They are listed as follows, in the order upon which they crossed the starting line: Brizo from University of Illinois, Mercury 6 from Illinois State University, Gato Del Sol VI from University of Kentucky, RA XI from Principia College, Freya from University of Minnesota, Nimbus from M.I.T., ROSE from Appalachian State University, Endurance from Georgia Institute of Technology, and Zephyr from University of California, Berkeley.

Tribune Photo/Daneen Thurman

This year, the teams are traveling via the historic Santa Fe Trail, having already begun their journey from Independence, Missouri. Starting at the Independence Square, these teams will race all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tribune Photo/Daneen Thurman

Their route is full of stories dating all the way back to 1821. In his article published by Discover Vintage America, retired writer Liegh Elmore, describes the Santa Fe trail and its origin. He tells the story of a Missouri man named William Becknell who once sought trade west of Franklin, Missouri.

Becknell, a salt maker, was deeply in debt to his creditors. Elmore said Becknell traveled desperately searching for traders, and eventually arrived in a recently liberated New Mexico. “Little did Becknell suspect that his enterprise would result in the opening of the first international trade highway for the United States,” said Elmore. Thus, the trail would become a historic landmark.

In an interview with this reporter, Rita Crocker, a seasoned ASC observer, compared this year’s competition to those in the past. An observer is someone who travels with the team in the chase car. She said that one observer usually will travel with many teams throughout the race. However, for this race, there will be only one assigned observer per team.

“Each observer is given a route book, and it is the observer’s job to ensure that the team stays on track,” she said. They must note “every bump, railroad, indication of incidents, gravel, etc.”. When asked about her favorite experiences working as an observer, Crocker recalled a memorable trip to Abu Dhabi.

“First of all, I thought it was beautiful,” she said, “They have beautiful architecture.” She went on to explain how the race in Abu Dhabi differs in comparison to the ASC. She said that everyday, the route changes, but the endpoint is always the same.

The ASC is designed to “test the reliability and endurance of all solar car systems,” as stated at www.americansolarchallenge.org. Most teams will often have to get creative in solving problems while on the move. Though no simple feat, completing this challenge is undoubtedly a hearty achievement felt by all of those involved.

Entire photo album located at: Historic Santa Fe Trail Hosts American Solar Competition