Sparks shot across the Lakeville North High School machine shop as senior Ryan Lowell welded the back end of a small race car Thursday morning. A former NASCAR crew chief kept watch of Lowell’s work, while the grandson of racing legend Richard Petty also looked on. Not exactly a typical day in third period. Go Kart Build-Off.
Lowell and several of his Lakeville North classmates are currently competing in a rat rod go-kart build off with a group of students from Minneapolis Public Schools, a contest in which advanced technology education students plan, sketch, and build a go-kart to be raced next fall. The build off is part of the Tools for the Trades program with Burnsville-based Northern Tool and Equipment.
Northern Tool and Equipment started the Tools for the Trades program in 2021 in order to foster growth in career and technical education programs, ideally placing students in real-life situations to expose them to potential careers.
The build-off was announced last June, with the Northern Tool-donated 740cc NorthStar engines delivered to the schools in September. Since the start of school, the kids have gone step by step — first, brainstorming potential go-kart designs, then researching those ideas, and presenting the plans to the class. Next, they chose a potential design and learned about car frame geometry. That was before getting to the shop, picking up tools and, now, manufacturing their cars.
“I love all of it,” Lowell said, taking a break from the welding torch. “We’re welding, fabricating, we’re talking with each other about what to do. We’re all friends, so we talk it out. I hope (schools) can continue things like this. It’s such a great experience.”
The four-stroke, twin cylinder engines have roughly 20 horsepower, with these karts potentially racing down the track at more than 50 mph.
Alongside the Lakeville North students in the classroom on Thursday were two racing experts: Greg Steadman, former Petty Enterprises crew chief and current chief operating officer of Petty’s Garage; and Thad Moffitt, professional race car driver and grandson of legendary driver Richard Petty.
The Minneapolis Public Schools students have mentor Billy Lane, celebrity motorcycle builder and founder of Choppers, Inc., checking their work.
Steadman met with the students several times over Zoom, and he said meeting them in class clearly provided some better connections between the racing expert and the students. The high schoolers were particularly thoughtful in terms of the design and making potential changes, he said, and Steadman enjoyed showing them how those small changes could ripple throughout the entire design.
The program drew high marks from the educators
At Minneapolis Public Schools, teacher Luther Kominski called the program a “breath of fresh air,” while his colleague Zach Humphrey said these skills will be life changing for his students.
“This is a transformational skill set that no one can take from you, that one day you can use to better your own circumstances,” Humphrey said.
Technology education instructor Kevin Baas said his goal is to open up as many doors as possible for his students. This program does through hands-on, real world experience working with local businesses. A particular focus for Baas is helping his students find an eventual career they can enjoy for years, rather than a job they eventually dread.
“We want to find out what you like, and also what you don’t like,” Baas said. “Northern Tool knows this is the future workforce.
There are ‘help wanted’ signs in front of every manufacturing company in our area, and here, our kids are getting real world experience, learning lifelong skill sets.”
Indeed, many of the students said they hope to continue their education in the automotive, engineering, or manufacturing industries.
After high school, Lakeville North junior Tim Plante hopes to continue on to mechanical engineering. He spent a lot of time on Thursday working on the kart’s steering column.
“Having this opportunity is amazing,” Plante said. “It lets me do everything (in the industry).”
His classmate, Ryan Lowell, is considering an automotive career focusing on collision body work.
The finished cars are set to be displayed at the Minnesota Street Rod Association Back to the 50’s event. The race is scheduled next October in Florida, as part of Billy Lane’s Sons of Speed racing series.
“This program is a dream come true,” Baas said.
Source: Go Kart Build-Off