The story of Shocker, the little car that could!

Sep 3, 2007
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A non-fictional tale filled with hope.

Cons:No pictures.

The Bottom Line: A satisfying and easy read, Electric Dreams is the perfect choice for any science or environmental book list.


Electric Dreams: One Unlikely Team of Kids and The Race To Build The Car Of The Future is a charming story about a group of high school students who built their own electric race car. The story focuses on the ECORV team leaders for Northampton East High School: Eric Ryan and Harold Miller. Eric, a second year teacher recently moved from California. Harold, a seasoned auto shop teacher with a racing past, given the chance of a lifetime to build and race an electric car on a NASCAR track. If you picked up the book from a newsstand, one thing will stand out though, no pictures. Only the cover has a photo of a blurred, #10, race car with a photo on the inside of the team celebrating. Since my copy is the first edition, we should all hope that the publisher includes pictures in a future print, to help tell the story.

The story starts out following Eric as he moves across the country from California to North Carolina. In his second year as a science teacher, a local utility company helps organize an educational event to build an electric car. Over a dozen high schools throughout the region sign up. The teams are given their project at the beginning of the school year, the car would have to be assembled and running shortly before April. The competition would require the students to not only build a car but also excel in the following categories: oral presentation, efficiency, design, range and acceleration and handling. Since Northampton East's county was rated among the poorest districts in the state, the chance that they would actually get the car built was low. Yet, Eric and Harold brought the community together with a large fund raising drive. Soon with the help of monetary donations from local businesses, the team was able to purchase the needed parts and supplies to start work on their EV. Not one, but two vehicles were donated to the team for conversion: a Datsun 240-Z and a 1985 two-door Ford Escort. Rather than picking the sporty Datsun the team chooses the Escort because of the car's roomy interior and lack of rust. The amount of work that went into the car, Shocker, was remarkable. The team removed the engine and all emissions systems. Next the students measured, cut and installed all the pieces into exact position based on precise that account for center of gravity and weight. The overall problem was weight, the car once assembled could not weigh more than the GVWR 3,135lbs if it hoped to meet the guidelines set forth. The car with all parts removed weighed just 2,200lbs. Yet they have yet to fit in the 140lb motor, roll cage and 1,056lbs of batteries. The story progresses from here describing the engineering hurdles they encountered and how they overcame them.

The book delicately dives into the concepts behind EV's and their components. Some history of EV's and their basic operation is presented throughout the book, to give the reader an idea of the advantages of their use. To keep the reader's interest, the author avoids the more complicated subjects in favor of creating a drama that weaves the lives of the team members together. As an example of the authors dramatic story telling, the drama of the team's oral presentation is told. They created, "The Wizard Of Ohms", a play about how Dorothy found her way home in a nonpolluting converted, electric vehicle. Dorothy must find her way home in a non-polluting car with the help of a Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man.

In the last few chapters of the book, Caroline guides you through the excitement of the EV Grand Prix at the Richmond International Raceway. NASCAR fans young and old will find much to enjoy in the following chapters as the author draws you into the unfolding event. In fact, Harold Miller reveals that he raced on the track in 1950's. As further homage, Shocker's number was #10 used by Ricky Rudd. For those fans of NASCAR history, as a result of the EV Shocker, Katrina Deloatch-Smith now holds a record that can never be broken. What happens next? Can Shocker hold out against 16 teams of students from places like Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and even Washington DC? Pick up a copy of this book to find out.

Who And Where Are They Now?
Eric Ryan is now the director of the EV Challenge. Several news photos and articles featuring Eric dot the internet.

"If each one of us took a little bit of responsibility then together we could change the world.", Harold Miller is a member of the Triangle Electric Auto Association. He is still converting vehicles to EV's.

One of the students went on to open a major website firm. However, for the other students I could not find any information on their post-academic activities.

Website:
http://www.carolinekettlewell.com/books/electric_dreams/
When you visit the website you find an interview, a top ten things to know about EV's list, a brief excerpt and a synopsis of the book. The best news on the website is that the book is being considered for a movie! A script and director have already been choosen, the only stumbling block is funding for the project.

Summary
The book Electric Dreams is an inspirational tale of how a team of students from North Carolina put together an electric vehicle that could be driven for over 60 miles on a single charge. They proved that their homemade EV had similar handling to that of a car and it's acceleration was in some ways better than a gasoline powered car. Caroline does a great job detailing how the team constructed the EV, but the real credit for this book goes to the visionary youth who put the car together. With some learning about Ohm's law just before working on the car, their work should make us all rethink our own efforts to towards building a more sustainable form of travel and how easy it could be.

Notes
The book "Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It", by Peter G. Sacks, discusses the merits of the educational experience behind Northampton's EV project.

For those interested in the author's latest projects, Caroline Kettlewell keeps a blog at this web address: http://carolinekettlewell.blogs.com/hinterlands/

You can see "Shocker" for yourself on Northampton East's website: http://www.northampton.k12.nc.us/shocker2/

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Read my other EV reviews:
Who Killed The Electric Car?

Solo: Life With An Electric Car

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