Originally created 02/11/02

Mentor, high school senior make winged sprint cars fly



Surrounded by upside-down airplane wings and sculpted metal sheets, Bob Courtwright and Alan Readdy are forging a friendship and a new design.

Think of them as the latest Wright Brothers in the field of sprint car racing.

They stand outside Mr. Courtwright's garage in Evans and point to the wings that typically sit atop a sprint car's frame and its front wheel axle. They marvel at what a new design would do.

"That's kind of your life blood right there," Mr. Courtwright says. The wings give support and keep the car from flipping over while making sharp turns. "If (our new design) works the way we think it will, by next year, unless they outlaw it, they'll all be this way."

Mr. Courtwright is a design engineer at GIW Industries in Grovetown, and Mr. Readdy, 18, is a student at Greenbrier High School. Lately, though, the two have become inventors - the result of Mr. Readdy's senior class project and Mr. Courtwright's mentoring. Mr. Readdy was required to work on a project for about 14 hours, then write a report and give a presentation to his English class.

Mr. Readdy decided to ask Mr. Courtwright to help him build a sprint car he had recently purchased. This gave Mr. Readdy his school project and helped Mr. Courtwright, who races throughout the Southeast in his spare time.

As the two got started, Mr. Readdy began asking questions.

"I was curious," Mr. Readdy says. "Why do they (the wings) have to be just rectangles? Can't you make them as parallelograms where the point is going into the wind?"

That turned into a new wing design, which has now received international attention.

Mr. Courtwright told the teen that no one had ever considered changing the wings. The new design, which is now about three months in the works, has the potential of making a sprint car nearly 5 percent faster around turns, Mr. Courtwright said. Excited about the possibility, he e-mailed Lorenzo Maggioni, an aerodynamics designer for Mercedes-Benz in Italy.

Mr. Maggioni expressed interest and agreed to be a consultant.

"He's going to take it to the next level," Mr. Courtwright said. "We're going to put some Formula One technology in it."

Upon completion, Mr. Courtwright said, he and Mr. Readdy plan to hand the design over to the wing manufacturer that sponsors Mr. Courtwright's races - Fast Wings in Minnesota. Both inventors say the goal is not to make money off the idea, but simply to construct a fast car.

"It's cool because I get to see a 1,300-pound car do 125 mph in a turn," Mr. Readdy said.

And through it all, Mr. Courtwright said, he's learned an important lesson.

"It makes a person stop and think, 'Why are we doing it this way?"' he said. "And kids have a different perspective on things. They're not biased by experience. They see things that you and I never see."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110, or prestonsparks@newstimesonline.com.