Section Navigation

Western North Carolina Gravity Games soapbox races showcase engineering, science

number38_t_t.jpgHudson Middle School and Caldwell Career Center Middle College win first place at inaugural competition

LENOIR – Donning jackets, hoodies and gloves, more than 200 spectators lined Church Street in downtown Lenoir to support competitors in the first-ever Western North Carolina Gravity Games Soapbox Races on Saturday, Nov. 19.  Google and Appalachian State University co-hosted the event in support of science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) programs in North Carolina schools.

competitors in soapbox derby.jpg

competitors in soapbox derby.jpg
The first Western North Carolina Gravity Games soapbox race helped excite students about science, technology, engineering and math. The competition in Lenoir, sponsored by Appalachian State University and Google, drew entries from nine high schools and 23 middle schools in the region. (Photo by Mike Briley)

Hudson Middle School .jpgHudson Middle School won the speed category in the middle school division with a time of 26.213 seconds. (Photo by Mike Briley)

Caldwell Career Center Middle College.jpgCaldwell Career Center Middle College won the speed category in the high school division, defeating seven high school teams with a time of 26.962. (Photo by Mike Briley)

Thirty-four teams – nine high school,  23 middle school and two in the open division for university or corporate entries – from Alleghany, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and Watauga counties competed to be the fastest car on the hill, all vying to win prizes including Android IdeaPads, trophies, medals and other goodies from Google and Appalachian.

“The Gravity Games was a great activity for young people to participate in a hands-on event that got them excited about science, technology and engineering,” said Enoch Moeller, Google’s operations manager at the data center in Lenoir. “The students who participated in the soapbox races are our future engineers and scientists, and we hope that they will have more opportunities to inspire their peers and this community with the incredible abilities we saw on display.”

Soapbox cars are motorless vehicles capable of racing downhill, using just gravity and potential mechanical energy as the only propulsion mechanisms.

The Church Street race track was 650-feet long. Top speeds of more than 30 MPH were recorded.

Each car competed in two event categories within its division: Speed and Creativity. With a time of 26.213 seconds, Hudson Middle School won the speed category in the middle school division beating 22 other teams.  Caldwell Career Center Middle College won the speed category in the high school division, defeating seven high school teams with a time of 26.962.  Hudson Middle School also won the People’s Choice Award, given to the car the attendees voted as their overall favorite. Each team entered a car that was either custom-built or was created from an approved kit.

In the Creativity category, Jacobs Fork Middle School and St. Stephens High School took home top honors. In the open division, Appalachian’s North Carolina Center for Engineering Technologies won for its two-bicycle design. A team from Google won first place in the speed competition in the Open category with Appalachian’s team finishing second in that category.

A list with all winners and participating schools is below.

“These students were able to apply science and engineering principles to build their cars and also have some fun and express themselves artistically with the design,” said Professor Mike Briley, chairman of Appalachian State University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.  “This event was about education through application. It’s important for us to keep that excitement alive and provide STEM activities to keep students engaged in these subjects and concepts throughout their education.”

Physics, technology and design graduate students from Appalachian, and employees from the Google data center in Caldwell County, served as mentors for the teams.

Google and Appalachian are planning another soapbox race scheduled for spring 2012.

Complete results and event photos are online at

Creativity – First-place winners only
Middle School: Jacobs Fork Middle School
High School:  St. Stephen’s High School
Open: North Carolina Center for Engineering Technologies (NCCET) at Appalachian

People’s Choice Award: Hudson Middle School

Middle School
First Place: Hudson Middle School
Second Place: William Lenoir Middle School (No. 31 car)
Third Place: Mountain View Elementary School

High School
First Place: Caldwell Career Center Middle College
Second Place: Newton-Conover High School
Third Place: Hickory High School

First place – Google
Second place – Appalachian

Participating schools include the following:

Alleghany County

Alleghany High School

Piney Creek Elementary School

Sparta Elementary School

Avery County

Avery County High School

Cranberry Middle School

Burke County

East Burke High School

Freedom High School

East Burke Middle School

Caldwell County

Caldwell Career Center Middle College

Collettsville School

Hibriten High School

Hudson Middle School

Granite Falls Middle School

William Lenoir Middle School

Happy Valley School

Oak Hill School

King’s Creek Accelerated Elementary School

Catawba County

Hickory High School

Newton-Conover High School

Saint Stephens High School

Jacobs Fork Middle School

Newton -Conover Middle School

Northview Middle School

Mountain View Elementary

Catawba Rosenwald School

NCCET/Appalachian State University

Watauga County

Green Valley Elementary School