It’s been 60 years since tiny Milan High School won the state basketball title, so the time was probably ripe for another small-town Hoosier school to conquer gigantic odds to win a championship.
Four students from Sullivan High School set a new world record last weekend when they won the prototype diesel division of the Shell Eco-marathon Americas, an international engineering/fuel mileage contest in Houston, Texas.
Their team car, “Black Diesel,” made a brief stop Wednesday morning at Sullivan High School on its way from Houston to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where it will be placed on display.
“It’s awesome,” said Kynon Johnson, a senior at Sullivan High School who drove the car in the multi-day competition. “It’s been a lot of hard work.”
This is the second year in a row Sullivan has won the diesel division in the competition, which includes high school and college teams from North, South and Central America. However, this year the team set a new fuel-efficiency record for the most miles per gallon in the prototype diesel division, achieving an astonishing score of 1,899 miles per gallon.
“I never dreamed it would come to this,” said team adviser and coach Brandon Small, an engineering and technology teacher at Sullivan. He started involving his students in the Shell Eco-marathon contest six years ago as a way to apply what they were learning about physics, engineering and technology to a real-world, competitive situation, he said.
“This is a huge time dedication” for the competitors, Small said.
All four members of the team, which they call “No Spark Plug Allowed,” hope to pursue careers in engineering, they said. Johnson, the driver, has already been accepted to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and plans to become involved in its super mileage team, he said.
The team from Sullivan High School also entered a second car in the Shell Eco-marathon competition in the gasoline-powered prototype division. That vehicle, piloted by Nat Barney, a junior, finished 10th out of dozens of schools, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, UCLA, University of California at Berkeley and Bradley University, to name a few.
Many teams from other schools, especially universities, were much larger than the squad from Sullivan and clearly had larger budgets, team members said. Many teams had as many as 20 people participating – five times more than the tiny Sullivan crew.
“We’re kind of a small team, so we didn’t make a lot of noise” when we won, Johnson said when asked the team’s reaction to winning.
Crew chiefs for the team are Brandon Ravellette, a junior, and Eric Holscher, a sophomore. Sullivan High School teacher Brian Wagaman serves as an assistant faculty adviser.
The diesel-powered car, which has a top speed of about 40 mph and weighs 180 pounds, was disassembled for transportation to Detroit and sitting in the rear of a bright yellow, Shell-sponsored pickup truck Wednesday morning at Sullivan High. All of the school’s students assembled in the sunshine outside to see the car and applaud their team.
“This is a special day,” Small told the large crowd, which also included news media from the area and Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb, who read a proclamation declaring Wednesday “Super Mileage Team Day.”
Shell is paying to fly the whole team and its faculty advisers to Detroit for a special dedication at the Henry Ford Museum scheduled for this morning. The team will likely take the summer off and get to work preparing for next year’s competition, to take place in Michigan, in the fall, Small said.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@