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High school champ builds her racing résumé

Florida student focuses on dragster’s wheels, says shape might be overrated
  •  Merritt Kendzior, center, of Bradenton, FL, is the newest champ of the TSA
High School Dragster Design event, having bested all 154 challengers at the
2014 event in Washington, D.C.
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    Merritt Kendzior, center, of Bradenton, FL, is the newest champ of the TSA High School Dragster Design event, having bested all 154 challengers at the 2014 event in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Merritt Kendzior wants to be an engineer someday. Having just recently completed her freshman year at Southeast High School in Bradenton, FL, she has several years of education to complete before she can reach her goal. Or does she?

Merritt is the newest champ of the Technology Student Association High School Dragster Design event, having bested all the 154 other challengers at the 2014 event in Washington, D.C. this past summer. Her airfoil-inspired car – dubbed NEXT – posted the fastest time during the time trials, capturing the No. 1 seed for the double-elimination bracket. During the head-to-head portion of the event, her car defeated every single challenger.

This accomplishment is the latest gem on her impressive CO2 racing résumé. She was the champ of the TSA middle school dragster event in 2012. The next year she took third place. In addition, she’s been extremely successful in another team racing event, F1 in Schools, where her team took first place in the Florida state and national events for two consecutive years.

You might assume that Merritt discovered a winning formula early and has simply stuck with it. That may be partially true but falls short of painting a true picture of her triumphs. The fact is that Merritt is not afraid to mess with success. She has picked up new knowledge and insights with each competition and has applied those to each subsequent project. For 2014, she abandoned the sleek bullet design of her two middle school cars, Kamikaze and Kamikaze Squared. This year’s model is very different in shape. “It’s basically a wing with a cartridge hole,” Merritt said.

“She’s come up with three or four techniques that I’m not allowed to talk about.” _ Richard Platt

She’s learned that some factors are more important for speed than others. For example, she believes that the wheels are extremely important, and the car’s shape may be an overrated factor. “Design plays a part in this competition, but I don’t believe as much as people think.”

Merritt has some secrets as well. According to her advisor, Richard Platt, “She’s come up with three or four techniques that I’m not allowed to talk about.”

She also has a passion for details and for problem solving. “She leaves no variable unanswered. She’s so detailed that she’s a real inspiration to the rest of the kids in our chapter,” said Platt.

Engineering is about solving problems. According to Wikipedia, engineering is “the application of scientific and practical knowledge in order to invent, design, build, […] and improve structures, machines, devices […] and processes.” Merritt already does this. News flash: Merritt is an engineer.

Just imagine what kind of engineer she’ll be after three more years of CO2 racing and then a college degree.