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Lafayette Jefferson Motorsports team competes at evGrandPrix

The JHS Motorsports team put their electric go-karts to the test on Wednesday as they competed in a 20-lap race.

Posted: May 15, 2019 6:26 PM
Updated: May 15, 2019 6:35 PM

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WLFI) - Normally at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the electrifying IndyCars with their powerful noise take the stage. But today, it was all about pushing uniquely quiet, electric go-karts to the limits at the evGrandPrix. High school motor sport teams travelled from as far away as Texas and as close as Lafayette Jefferson to compete.

According to the evGrandPrix website, the event started in 2009 at Purdue University. In 2013, the event partnered with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to join a slew of other festivities that lead up to the Indianapolis 500. 

In 2015, Purdue brought high schoolers into the race mix as part of Purdue President Mitch Daniels initiative called MSTEM3. This is a program that aims to provide STEM-related projects to high schoolers in order to expand their technical skills.

You could hear the sounds as IndyCars raced around the track in practice runs as the high schoolers lined up to qualify for their race.

"It's so surreal hearing the cars because this is where actual professional drivers come to race," said Lafayette Jeff senior Derek Gawlik, who raced the number 11 go-kart for his team.

"Getting to race while they are racing on the track, it's unbelievable," said fellow senior and fellow driver, Nathan Franklin

The JHS Motorsports team works on their go-karts all year in the classroom, and gets to bring them to the go-kart track built on the infield of IMS to put their skills to the test.

For Gawlik, joining the team was about trying something new.

"I've always been the engineering route but one of my teachers mentioned about doing it for my senior year and I thought why not?" he said.

But for Franklin, it's about carrying on the family tradition.

"My grandpa raced for 35 years and then my mom was the first girl to win the Purdue Grand Prix, and I've been racing since I was four," he said.

Nathan and Derek's job is to maneuver the go-kart through the 20-lap race, in a field of about 28 karts, at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.

"It's definitely an adrenaline rush but I just kind of zone out and it's all about focusing on how well you can do," said Gawlik.

"I'm excited, but before the race I always get a little nervous," said Franklin.

They also have a whole crew working behind the scenes: mechanics, team managers, a pit crew chief, and social media promoters.
The students also have guidance from instructors who have real life experience in the racing world. Wyatt Lucas is one of the team captains.

"Whenever we're in the tent, we are always working on the car as much as we can trying to get any minor details fixed," he said. He added that it's his duties as captain include getting the go-kart from the tent to the track and taking lap times.

But this isn't just a one-day deal, it's inspiring the next generation of motor sport athletes.

"At Purdue, I'd like to join their team for not only their actual racing team, but also for the autonomous vehicles that they do too," said Gawlik.

"Since I'm a third generation (driver), hopefully my kid will race and his kid will race," said Franklin. "I hope it keeps carrying down, family to family."

Franklin said after he graduates in two weeks, he will be attending IUPUI to get a degree in motor sports engineering. He said he hopes to be back at the track, either as a driver or as a crewmember.

Lucas said he plans to enter the welding industry, and said that he could see working on cars or go-karts as a possibility for his future.

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