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Friendship, Teamwork, and Mentors Are Important Ingredients for Dragster Success

You might think of designing, building, and racing CO2 cars as a solo activity. After all, an individual student must take his or her own concept from design to reality, and then put their creation on the track to face the competition. The starting line can be a lonely place when one thinks of the many worthy competitors vying for the same prize. But, as Kara Drechsler and Ellyn Green of Littleton, Colorado, can tell you, teamwork and collaboration are essential to success.

Kara and Ellyn crafted a pair of stunning dragsters that competed at the 2011 TSA National Conference dragster competition. Although the cars were not finalists, they were expertly built, very fast, and featured amazing airbrushed finishes.

The girls have competed in various TSA events for seven years – starting in sixth grade and competing all the way through high school. Kara was the first to begin building dragsters; the wood-working angle was a natural fit for her.

“My dad has a woodshop in our basement, and he was always making things out of wood", she said. As Kara started her first dragster project, she found a great mentor in Euclid Middle School teacher Larry Grimes. “He helped me with all of my CO2 cars and wanted me to succeed and win at every possible moment.”

Kara & Ellyn in the shop

Both girls competed in F1 in Schools, a team-oriented CO2 racing event that was part of the national TSA Conference until 2010. Kara, Ellyn, and two other members formed an F1 team called Infinity Racing. The team won 2nd place and was invited to the international event. Part of the F1 experience was acquiring sponsorships and enlisting expertise from local businesses. This is how the team formed a relationship with Nylund Collision Center, where they learned the skills and techniques of mixing paints and airbrushing.

Having teamed up for F1 in the past, Kara later introduced Ellyn to the dragster event, where they continued their team approach. Together they researched the top cars from the state competition, combining some of their attributes with their own ideas to achieve a pair of impressive speedsters. Their race times at the 2010 event were a scant 1/100th second apart. Ellyn – having enjoyed national success in many TSA events – is glad her friend convinced her to take on the dragster challenge.

“It’s so much fun; the event is probably one of my favorite events", she said. "It’s really hands-on; basically, you decide how everything is going to be.”

“I wanted to show that a girl with a pink car can beat the boys. I started off in sixth grade with a pink car, and won the state competition in eighth grade with another pink car.” – Kara Drechsler

Ellyn also credits TSA advisor and technology teacher Jason Whitehorn as a very positive influence on her CO2 racing career. Whitehorn’s “accomplished” technology lab is popular among students at Heritage High School, which helps overcome the perception of TSA participation as a “geeky” pursuit. Due to serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, Whitehorn was absent for a significant part of the girls’ high school career. His guidance was sorely missed while he was overseas, yet his profound impact on the girls’ education remains clear.

Beyond the help of teachers and local businesses, the girls found insight and support from their fellow competitors at the TSA events. “Fellow competitors” might sound like an oxymoron, but that’s not the way Ellyn sees it. Between events, the girls would strike up conversations, gaining valuable insight from other students, making connections, and even establishing lifelong friends.

But don’t think that Kara and Ellyn aren’t competitive.

“I wanted to show that a girl with a pink car can beat the boys", Kara said. "I started off in sixth grade with a pink car, and won the state competition in eighth grade with another pink car.”

Kara continued the pink car tradition in high school – her 2011 entry is hot pink with an artfully airbrushed striping scheme.

Both girls believe the engineering skills gained and valuable connections made with mentors, friends, and advisors will profoundly influence their future college and career paths. Kara is studying civil engineering at Oregon State University.

“Choosing civil engineering as my career path was definitely impacted by TSA", she said. "Designing bridges, CO2 cars, F1 cars, and architectural models proved that it was something I loved to do. I spent more time on my TSA events than I did with homework because it was my passion.”

Ellyn is studying accounting at Colorado University, and she plans to pick up a minor in computer technology. She’ll have a huge head start because she’s already tech savvy, thanks to her CAD work for F1 and similar projects.

Now Kara and Ellyn will often find themselves playing the role of mentors. Their advice for any newbie CO2 racer is to seek out the wisdom and expertise of a role model, be it a student or teacher. As students begin to build their own knowledge base and skill set, they should never forget to cultivate connections and grow from the experience of those who have gone before.

See more of Kara & Ellyn's dragsters