Drag racing revs up the entertainment
quotient of this alternative fuel expo
Electric racecars would have made an awesome science fair project, but the real deal is here. Electric-powered dragsters—which can travel up to 150mph—and their drivers will officially take the track for the first time in the Chicago area on Saturday 13. The race will be the highlight of an expo that will show that alternative-fuel vehicles aren’t just for idealistic hippies anymore.
Visitors to the Midwest Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet can check out hybrids (vehicles that use small gasoline engines, assisted by an electric motor for an extra kick) currently on the market and learn about how they work. There also will be prototypes on hand, such as a VW Beetle that local high-school students modified to run on vegetable oil.
“It’s just a way of getting everybody together and making them aware that there’s something else besides gasoline,” says John Emde, a member of the National Electric Drag Racing Association. “One day, there will be no more gas, so we have to come up with alternatives, and this is just the start of it.”
Emde has been on an alt-fuel kick since the 1970s, when he converted his Subaru to run on an electric motor. “I’d drive it to work and just plug it into a wall, just like you would a toaster,” says Emde, who notes that most full-fledged electric cars are produced by hobbyists like himself. “Anyone can have one—the only problem is, you can drive [it] only about 50, 100 miles max, and then it has to be recharged again, and that takes several hours.”
Emde calls the hybrids being produced by major manufacturers “a stepping stone between straight gas and straight electric.” (General Motors and Ford both produced electric-car models, but they have recently taken them off the market.)
About eight years ago, Emde got together with some friends to build an electric dragster. Soon after, they joined the national association. Emde will race a car named Aggravated Battery (pictured) down a straight course for a quarter of a mile. There won’t be the pollutants from gas-powered vehicle races—or the engine-revving noise, either. “They make no noise at all,” Emde says, “all you hear are the tires.”—Leah Pietrusiak
The Midwest Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo is Saturday 13.