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'Stars and Stripes' brings in middle school gold

Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it often makes national champions, especially with the TSA Dragster Design Competition.

After coming in second in the 2016 middle school division of the national dragster event, Bradenton, Florida eighth grader Hunter Raley came back this year with more knowledge and experience. The result: first place in the 2017 middle school competition!

His wedge-type CO2 dragster, Stars and Stripes, took first with a time of 0.873 seconds at the competition held this June in Orlando, Florida.

“Every year I learn more. I learned a lot last year, and this year I just added to that,” Hunter said. “I felt like I tested a lot more this year and learned some of the smaller things I’d done to increase my speed.”

Aside from weight, he believes the biggest factor in creating a fast dragster lies with the wheels and axles.

“I feel like if you have free-spinning wheels, no matter what, you’re going to have a fast car,” he said. “But having a nice aerodynamic design is important too, but I think wheels are a little more important. Even with this car, I feel like I have things I can improve on.”

His process included a lot of computer modeling in Solidworks, and he built a total of three cars during the season. He used bearings on his car with hollow brass axles, and instead of a traditional screw eye he used the coiled wires that we started to see last year during the competition. And Hunter is particular about making his own wheels.

“Yeah, they’re basically the same every time, but I feel like having control of what my wheels can be. And I enjoy going through the whole process more than I like buying wheels.”

Though fast, the dragster is also attractive with its pearl-white finish with red and blue details, some of which were airbrushed.

“I try to go with what best symbolizes the dragster,” Hunter explained. “Last year, I went with Stryker, which I thought symbolized speed and stuff. But this year, I went more with stars and stripes. It’s not a 100-percent patriotic [design], but the fact that it has stars and stripes almost makes it feel like that. And that symbolizes strength, boldness, bravery – and strength is a huge factor in dragsters, and that’s what I wanted to symbolize this year. It came together really nice.”

As Hunter heads to Palmetto High School next year, he knows he needs to up his game as the high schools in Bradenton, FL, have produced the majority of Dragster Design high school winners in the past decade, including Merritt Kendzior, the four-time high school national winner.

“Going into high school means that I’ll have to step up my design,” he said. “Everyone in high school is so fast. I watched the competition last year, and it’s crazy fast. Some of the designs are so intricate. It’s incredible. I’ll have to learn some more and improve my design more. There’s a lot of tough competitors, especially in my state and in my county.”

Even with stiff competition, we won’t be surprised to see this young man back at the national races next year.

By PJ Graham, Web Content Specialist, and Dan Eckelberry, E-commerce Manager