HOUSTON – The Houston Solar Race program started on a shoestring back in 1995 and things haven’t really changed much over the years.
When Houston electricity teacher, Keith Reese, came up with the idea of creating a solar-powered car, there was no money in the school budget to cover costs.
And there’s not much more in today’s budget.
“The program is allocated $3,000 a year,” said Houston School Superintendent Steve Coker, who acknowledges its not much, but is as much as the district can afford.
Along with the cost of building, improving and maintaining the solar car come registration fees and travel expenses for competitions.
That’s where the Sundancer Steering Committee comes into play.
Committee members help raise funds and solicit donations for the team to continue their program.
This year’s budget to race in the Solar Challenge from Fort Worth, Texas, to Los Angeles, Calif., came in just under $30,000 with the biggest expense coming from from lodging during the cross-country trip.
Donations made by businesses and individuals are handled through Chickasaw Development Foundation and are tax deductible and the committee had good response locally and from outside parties.
The Franklin Corporation offered to match local fundraising efforts up to $10,000 and the community responded to the challenge. Hank Franklin presented the check to members of the Houston Solar Race Team and said the company was pleased to be a part of such a successful program.
“We’re fortunate and glad that we can have a small part of what goes into it,” said Franklin.
The team also received in-kind donations from Griffin Motors, Eaton Auto and Martin Motors who supplied vans for traveling at no charge to the team or the school.
At the student level
The team members also have a hands-on role to play in funding the program and the travels that come along with it.
“We’ve had Boston butt fundraisers and we had a booth at the Fourth of July (Houston Homecoming),” said Jacob Bridgman.
“And we sold concessions at an estate auction,” added Kristen Black.
The team also sold raffle tickets on donated items that included a recliner from United Furniture and a hand-crafted, wooden swing from Cap’s Corner in Anchor.
In addition to working vendor booths, soliciting donations and networking in search of grants and other avenues of funding, the team members were responsible for paying their own meals while on the road and their own airfare home from Los Angeles.
And unexpected expenses began to crop up even before the team left town.
“They dropped a new thing on us this year,” Reese said.”Parking in L.A. They said $50 dollars each to park the truck and trailer. I thought they meant $50 a day, but they meant hiring security to guard the cars.”
Reese said the team works year-round on preparing the car and securing funds for racing, but 12 first-place national trophies make it all worth while.
“This is a one-time thing,” Reese said. “It’s our practice, playoffs and championship game all at once.”