In 1990 the University of North Texas was celebrating its 100th anniversary. In addition to exhibits, parades, and parties it was decided that the Industrial Technology Department (now the College of Engineering) would participate in the design and construction of a solar car. The car, named Centennial, took part is an eleven day race of solar cars sponsored by General Motors. The UNT team had the fewest team members, the least expensive car ($70,000), and went up against 32 other teams. For comparison, the University of Michigan team had an $800,000 car. Faculty advisor John Dobson and team leader Lee Palmer supervised the two years of design and building that it took to create UNT’s solar car. Other team members were Greg Mitchel and Jeff Curtis.
The car was a three wheel, 16 foot long, one-seater. The vehicle was only 34 ½ inches tall which tapered to just a few inches in the rear and had only a three inch ground clearance. It weighed 377 pounds, making it the lightest car in the race. It held a one horse-power engine and reached speeds of 23 miles per hour.
The team first had to qualify for the race, which they did in 11 hours and 38 minutes at the Daytona Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. They would be ranked twelfth at the start of the race.
Life for the team members was not easy. Their day started at 5:00 A.M. They charged the car with sunlight for a couple of hours, raced for nine hours, and then charged the batteries again. Members of the team took 4 ½ hour shifts driving the car. There was only a small space for the driver and no air-conditioning, so the driver was often working in temperatures that reached 105 degrees. The car’s most common problem during the race were flat tires – an unwanted event that happened seven times. The team was unable to race for two days due to frequent rain, which had an impact on the placement of the team. The Centennial finished the race in 18th place.
– Perri Hamilton, Assistant to the Archivist