Bibb high school students get on their soapbox at derby

The Magnolia Soap Box Derby turned what traditionally was a kid’s thing into an adult thing, but this year the youngsters got involved again.

For the first time at the annual race, Bibb County high school students competed in a special event held prior to the adult race.

Teams from seven high schools coasted down Magnolia Street on Saturday, with Westside High School’s team clocking the winning time at 10.36 seconds, edging Howard High School, which did it in 10.81.

The high school race, called the Gravity Racing Challenge, is about more than having a little fun. A Knight Foundation grant paid for kits that each high school used to build the cars. The intent was to give students a chance to apply science, technology, engineering and math to figure out how to get a car to move the fastest.

While the kits were all the same, the students could make some tweaks, including adding weight in different places to give the car more momentum.

Westside High senior Dominick Laiso, the driver of the winning car, said he learned a lot from the experience.

“My teacher explained a lot about physics and what I could do to make it faster and how I should drive it,” said Laiso, who plans to study mechanical engineering in college.

The school’s art department painted it up in its Seminole colors and logo, and a school dance team performed prior to the run, which also won Westside the Best in Show award.

Southwest High School took third place with a time of 10.88 seconds.

Calvin Harris, a senior who plans to join the Navy, drove the Southwest High car and said it was a good experience.

“I learned more about mechanical skills and teamwork,” he said.

Markel Mitchell, a math teacher at Southwest who helped the team, said it’s a good teaching tool, and not just for those directly involved with the team. He presented the challenge of how to make the car go faster to all of his students, and they also came out to watch the car in practice. They all worked on the math involved with it.

“They got experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Mitchell said. “They were able to use all four branches to determine the best design.”

He said the students enjoyed watching the team’s practice runs at the school.

“The kids are really interested in it and we have a high number of kids asking about being part of the team next year,” he said.

Each car will be disassembled, returned to the school, and next year’s students will start over from scratch with the same kit.

Hundreds of people lined the street in the increasingly popular spectacle. It included food trucks and a drum corps. Each team raced to their own theme music.

In the adult professional category, the winner was Boy Scout Troop 8, which edged out three-time defending champion Bearfoot Tavern. While Boy Scouts were part of the winning team, the car was driven by an adult, as required by the rules.

The winner of the Shadetree division was First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.