Northwest students take to the track in Lacey Electric Car Rally

When River Ridge High School student Isabell “Izzy” Helms took to the race track last year, things didn’t go as planned.

During a practice lap, a wheel on her electric car broke, and she skidded out of control. She wasn’t injured, but she was shaken.

On Saturday, the 17-year-old plotted her comeback at Lacey’s annual Electric Car Rally.

“I’m nervous after last year,” Helms said. “I want to stay in the race the whole time.”

She took the quarter-mile track in a car called “the Tank,” a vehicle engineered and built by members of the River Ridge Electric Vehicle club. The car is powered by batteries, and the goal of the rally is to drive as many laps as possible in one hour.

Helms said she joined the club at the urging of her older sister. Now, Helms hopes to turn the hobby into a career.

“It’s a lot of fun, and I want to go into mechanics,” Helms said. “So this is just giving me a head start.”

That’s the whole goal of the Lacey STEM Fair, said Jeannette Sieler, a recreation supervisor for Lacey Parks and Recreation. The electric car rally, which draws participants from around the Northwest, is just one feature of the daylong event at Huntamer Park. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)

This year’s event included robotics demonstrations, air-powered rocket launches, a solar-powered ducky dash and Lego activities.

It all started 18 years ago with the electric car rally, originally at River Ridge, Sieler said. The city adopted and expanded the event a few years ago.

River Ridge teacher Carl Schlegel has been a part of the rally since its inception, and he heads the REV club. This year, two club members raced: Helms and 17-year-old Donald Imes.

Helms was able to finish the rally this year, but Imes’ car broke down.

Schlegel explained that each car is powered by 75 pounds of batteries — teams can have as many of any type of batteries as they want, as long as the car don’t exceed the weight limit. And each driver must weigh 180 pounds. If they don’t, they’re required to carry ballast to make up the weight difference.

After that, teams can design the cars any way they want.

“You want it to be lightweight and sturdy,” Schlegel said. “These kids drive like they’re in NASCAR, so it has to be sturdy.”

The Tank fits the bill. Schlegel said it’s not the most beautiful vehicle to look at, but it’s survived seven years of abuse from teen drivers.

“It’s the same car, but we try to change things and experiment every year,” Schlegel said. “We change the brakes, the gears and the steering.”

Helms’ mother, Kathleen Timmerman, said she’s already reaped the benefits of this experimentation. Her daughter knows how to fix the family’s truck.

“She learned how to fix the water pump, and she’s also planning on replacing the radiator,” Timmerman said.