MCCTC ‘Machine Team 500’ Puts Math to Work

CANFIELD, Ohio – Spectators gathered at the go-kart track behind Mahoning County Career and Technical Center in Canfield to watch the inaugural Machine Team 500 race. 

The winner was math education.

The May 14 race featured four vehicles constructed by MCCTC students over the course of the school year. The race is the end-of-the-school-year culmination of the project.

About 100 people looked on from the flat roof of the school and from the fire training center at the other end of the campus. In the end, Joe Sander, MCCTC auto collision repair instructor, thrust his arms in the air as he drove a lime-green vehicle constructed by his students first over the finish line.

“It felt like I did something really cool,” says junior Tristen Hutchko, one of the 19 people who worked on the winning vehicle.

Joe Sander, MCCTC auto collision instructor, stands next to a go-kart constructed by his class.

Dustin Cramer, the school’s math instructor, predicted the victory before the race. He spoke of the physics, acceleration, top speeds and gear ratios – all vital elements in the construction of the vehicles. He used his knowledge to fine-tune the gearing and four symmetrical tires to adjust for the curvy course.

While the lime-green car didn’t produce the top speed – an area police officer near the finish line clocked it going around 30 mph – it had a lower gear ratio and more torque to maneuver around the course, Cramer says. It completed one lap of the course in a minute and 15 seconds.

“Math doesn’t lie,” Cramer says. “I think what you saw there was math at its finest.”

Curve radiuses, arc length, straightaways, acceleration, velocity – all of those things play a role in racing.

The course, just over 4/10ths of a mile in length, is chock-full of twists and turns.

Hutchko was the course’s architect. He said he did not want any straightaways.

“Our car was agile and very quick off the start,” Hutchko says. “I tried to make sure there were a bunch of turns and no straightaways.”

A lot of rebuilding and work went into the vehicle, says junior Mason Colwell. Lower gearing on the kart provided the quick entrance and exits out of the turns around the winding course.

“It handles pretty well for sitting lower to the ground and handles corners really well,” says Colwell, who helped hoist a metallic piston cup for the victory.

That hands-on mathematics experience helps students grasp what is taught in the classroom setting.

“You get to see what you’re doing, and how it affects what you’re doing – how the math works in the real world,” Hutchko says.

Cramer’s goal is to make this learning process much more digestible than in a normal high school algebra class.

“At the career center, that’s how we do it,” he says. “We’re not doing the Xs and Ys, but there’s Xs and Ys – all that math you’re learning. This is an Algebra II class with Algebra II content. But you’re learning it with something that’s applied to an actual thing, which is just useful.

“I always say this when we talk about how we do academics differently at the career center than we do at your home schools.”

The truck and diesel department had the fastest vehicle on the track, reaching speeds of 35 mph. In lieu of a fancy paint job, the truck and diesel team opted to focus on the back portion of the vehicle, enhancing the engine.

Joe Merritt, the school’s diesel and truck instructor, says before race day there was a torque convertor and twin turbo setup on the worn black go-kart, which took second place in the race.

“Other than that, it’s kind of ratty,” he says. “The go-kart was actually donated to us. We just bought the gear drive, seat, steering wheel and most of these parts we found laying around the school.”

The students started constructing their vehicles in the fall of 2020. As time passed, they began comparing and talking about each other’s designs.

On race day, winning driver Sander said being behind the wheel turned the clock back to his youth when these types of races were much more prevalent.

“I’m 58 and it was pretty exciting,” he says. “Hopefully the kids get to drive them now and have some fun with the cars, too.”

Pictured at top: Driving this go-kart is Matt Nicholson, a junior from Canfield who is in MCCTC’s auto collision program.