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'You've been passed by a girl': Tiny Clinch School wins big in solar-kart championship at BMS

Jeff Bobo • Updated May 9, 2017 at 3:48 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Nineteen area high schools learned Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway that sometimes in racing smaller is better, and there's no shame in being passed by a girl.

With an all-girl driving team, the smallest high school in Tennessee with only 38 students won the overall championship in the Tennessee Solar Go Kart Challenge.

Clinch School, located on the north side of Clinch Mountain in rural Hawkins County, took 14 of its total 38 high school students to Monday’s competition.

Earlier this year, several area high schools shared a $99,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Education that they used to build their kart for Monday's competition.

Clinch was excluded from that grant but received sponsorship from Cooper-Standard's Phipps Bend plant to pay for its go kart.

The competition required students to convert a gas-powered go kart to solar power.

The purpose was to emphasize practical applications for science, technology, engineering, math, physics and problem solving.

There were four components to the competition: a video entry; kart design and team knowledge; a 10-lap speed race at BMS; and a 50-lap endurance race at BMS.

Out of 20 high schools competing, Clinch placed second in the video competition, which was filmed by Hailie Roder; and second in a car show Monday where the kart's design and the team's knowledge were judged.

Clinch sophomore driver Hannah Seal then drove the kart to victory in the 10-lap speed race.

Seal is a bit of a ringer in that she has been competing in go karts on local short tracks across the Southeast for the previous three summers and is currently a rookie in the Southeast Super Truck regional touring series.

"We were kind of looked down on as the underdogs, so it felt good to say that we can do it too," Seal told the Times-News on Tuesday. "We took this competition very seriously. We started building that kart at the beginning of the semester, and we worked every single day testing, adjusting, just trying to make it better anyway we could. We made adjustments to the frame that made it lighter. We came up with ideas, we studied, we researched. We worked beyond the limits anybody else did."

In the final event of the day, all 20 schools competed in a 50-lap endurance race that required a driver change every 10 laps.

Part of Clinch's "stay light" strategy for that race was to field an all-girl driving team anchored by Seal and also featuring Katie Nichols, Taylor Kinsler and Hailie Roder.

The girls called themselves "The Pink Ladies." Clinch's kart was named "Greased Lightning" and the male pit crew was called the "T-Birds."

Team coach and Clinch teacher Joshua Couch said four ladies were chosen for the endurance race because they were the smallest and lightest members of Clinch's 14-student team. Because the kart is powered by batteries that are charged by sunlight, it was important to keep as much weight off the kart as possible.

They did indulge themselves with one addition to the weight of the kart, however. It was a small plate on the back that read, "You've been passed by a girl."

Clinch placed fifth in the endurance race and was one of only 10 teams to actually finish all 50 laps.

Based on all the combined scores from each element of the competition, the smallest school in the competition was named the overall winner.

The kart's top speed was 32.33 mph, and it was turning laps around BMS in just under a minute. Seal said if she hit the corner just right she could stay full throttle all the way around, but she did have to back off a little from time to time.

Clinch's 14 team members included Shyla Corente, Kathyjean Jennings, Kortney Lawson, Autumn Lowe, Alexis Raebel, Hailie Roder, Amber Thomas, Christian Churchwell, Ryan Johnson, Taylor Kinsler, Jennifer Livesay, Katie Nichols, Landon Rogers, Hannah Seal and Christian Stephenson.

"All the hard work and determination was worth it," Couch said Tuesday. "Now everyone knows 'The Little School Could.’ "

Couch added, "That's the biggest thing we've ever won here. It's a huge feeling of accomplishment for these students, and hopefully will encourage them to set high goals for themselves and work hard for those goals. It gives our students a sense of pride and accomplishment that they will hopefully carry with them throughout their lives."

Hampton High School came in second overall, followed by Greeneville Center for Technology in third.

In the speed race, Clinch School came in first, Hampton High in second and Johnson County High in third.

Elizabethton High School the endurance race, Johnson County was second and Greeneville Center for Technology was third.                                                 

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