MADISON — A program that pairs science and technology education with car racing hit the track at World Wide Technology Raceway on Thursday.
For the first time, the track invited youth teams from school districts and after-school programs throughout the St. Louis region to build and race their own go-karts ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 IndyCar race on Saturday.
The teams each work with an IndyCar pit crew member to build their karts and learn how to tackle the challenges of racing on the go-kart track. They built the go-karts Thursday, and will race to post the best time on the track on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s amazing,” said Ashley Harris, World Wide Technology’s community outreach specialist. “They don’t even have their driver's licenses and they’re building their own car.”
Harris said the event is also about getting kids of all backgrounds excited about the possibilities of careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
“You don’t see too many African Americans choosing careers in STEM,” said Carla Jefferson, a science teacher at Jennings Junior High School. “There’s a disparity.”
Black students made up the majority of the 11 teams coming from schools and community organizations like the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, Jennings School District and the National Society of Black Engineers.
The program exposes young people to science and engineering and gives them hands-on experience beyond learning from a book.
“It’s actually real world,” Jefferson said. “They’re able to see concepts that are taught in class actually come to fruition.”
She explained that meant seeing the physics of driving and engineering of a go-kart in action.
Juan Peal, 13, said he was excited about getting to drive one of the karts.
“Then I heard we were building the karts, and I was excited about that,” the Jennings Junior High School student said. “I always like building things and tinkering. It’s one of my hobbies.”
Jefferson was glad that her students were able to have the experience.
“I’ve wanted to do this with my class, and I didn’t have the resources,” Jefferson said. “To be able to do it and be part of it, I feel blessed.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.
Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid
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