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Bullard, Texas teens ready to take their solar car westward


After 10 months and countless work hours, it’s almost time for the Bullard Solar Car Team to race. Six students from Bullard High School in Bullard, Texas, will drive their 800-pound solar car on a nine-day, cross-country race beginning at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and ending in Los Angeles.

The Winston Solar Car Challenge is an annual competition for high school students that will draw about 30 teams worldwide this year. Cullen Hippler, 18, of Bullard says his team raised $96,000, and they sought out mentors in carbon fiber and solar power to get the job done.

“We wanted to create a vehicle that was cutting edge and efficient -- something that no one had ever seen before," Hippler said. "We had to search far and wide. Our search actually took us to Warsaw, Poland.”

Team leader Austin Gwartney, 19, of Jacksonville, Texas, will enroll at UT Tyler in the fall. Gwartney, and three of his solar car team members, received engineering scholarships and a directive to launch a solar car program at the university.

“It feels awesome because this is what I wanted to do," Gwartney said. "By starting the project here in Bullard, to continue on and spread it throughout the community, and get more people involved -- I love it."

The crew is adding the final touches to the three-wheeled vehicle, like molding the windshield and installing sensors. Hippler said their cruising speed will be 45 MPH, and they’ll have a convoy of three other vehicles. He said they’ll have police escorts navigating them through major cities like Phoenix.

"We try to keep the rotations pretty short," Hippler said, referring to the crew member behind the wheel. "As you can imagine, it gets pretty hot that close to the asphalt with no air conditioning. So, we usually try to rotate every hour or so.”

The public is invited to help send off the Bullard Solar Car Team on July 20. A community event is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Bullard High School with a featured speaker, the Polish engineer who developed fiber carbon technology. The 1,500-mile race begins July 23.