Speeding to victory

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Teamwork....Northern Southland Col lege team two members (clockwise from left) driver Grace Naylor (15), Lachy Elder (15), Jack Brenssell (18) and Regan Pont (15) take part in the relay section of the racing during the Grass Kart Challenge at Lumsden on Saturday. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

The most successful team in the 15-year history of the Grass Kart Challenge has done it again.

The Northern Southland College team two won this year’s event in Lumsden on Saturday.

The challenge requires entrants to build a grass kart from scratch, keep records of the process, make a presentation and complete activities including sprint and relay racing.

Northern Southland metalwork teacher Mike Dixon supervises the school’s entries.

A Northern Southland College team had won the event nine times since its inception, and four out of the past five events, Mr Dixon said.

“It gets to the point where everyone expects you to do it, so it’s almost a relief as well as stoked [to win].

“I wasn’t completely confident, to be fair, this year.”

In the first year of the challenge, in 2007, the team came second-last.

“It was a steep learning curve.”

Two years later the team won and had finished in the top three ever since.

Most of the work on the karts was done outside of school hours. The keen pupils would spend about 80 hours on the project and he would spend about 100, Mr Dixon said.

However, the time investment was worth it.

“The kids love it.

“They really enjoy the test driving.

“They quite like success as well.”

The certificates from the previous year’s challenges were displayed in the workshop and were a good incentive to persevere with the paperwork aspect of the project.

“All of the kids hate record-keeping but they also know in the last 10 years we’ve won it every year bar one.”

The prize money which was often about $1000 was used to buy tools for the metal bay of the workshop.

About 13 pupils from year 10 up were involved in the two teams but a core of about three or four did most of the work.

About a third of the group had not taken workshop since year 10.

The pupils were already talking to him about next year’s challenge, he said.

The challenge was co-ordinated by Glenys McKenzie, of Invercargill.

The college had performed well in the competition for many years which was outstanding given the number of pupils it had, Ms McKenzie said.

Part of the reason the school did so well was because of Mr Dixon, she said.

“You do have to have a champion.”

The challenge was established to get pupils interested in trade careers.

Designing and making a kart gave them the opportunity to learn skills used in trades.

“What we were trying to do was put more practical into the school curriculum.

“Grass karts were good because it covered off automotive and mechanical engineering.”

Once metalwork was a subject in its own right but now it was a small part of the technology syllabus, she said.

“That’s how dumbed-down trades have become over a period of time and so is it any wonder that we’ve got a skills shortage and trades shortage when we’re not putting the emphasis on it in secondary schools?”

Teams were judged on the construction, appearance, record-keeping and performance of the kart.