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Bob Jones, Mill Creek Greenpower race teams take national titles at Talladega

TALLADEGA – The world-famous track held exciting moments for Madison youth as they ‘owned’ the day for the Greenpower USA National Championship.

At Talladega National Superspeedway near Birmingham, Greenpower racing teams from Bob Jones High School and Mill Creek Elementary School won major titles at the championship. Engineering Academy teacher Jessye Gaines and Parent Coach Kris Kasprzak lead the Patriot racers. At Mill Creek, kindergarten teacher Emily Ortiz coaches Greenpower teams.

Bob Jones’ three teams secured two titles of National Champion and one title as runner-up to National Champion. Mill Creek’s Car 700 was named Champion for Talladega Goblin Games and overall National Champion for the 2023-2024 racing season, which is Mill Creek’s second consecutive title.

Bob Jones’ biggest hurdle at Talladega was the track layout’s difficulty. “The track was an extremely technical layout for our drivers. If drivers did not take a very specific racing line, damage to our cars, tires and wheels was guaranteed,” Gaines said.

“Even our most experienced drivers were thrown a curve ball with the track difficulty. Students consulted Sports Car Club of America drivers for their expertise on the race lines to take for every turn; this guidance was invaluable,” Gaines said. “I was so proud of our drivers for overcoming this challenge.”

“At the awards ceremony, hearing that Patriot Racing had completed a ‘clean sweep’ with our three cars from the racing and presentation components, I felt both relief and pride,” Gaines said. “My students have literally put blood, sweat and tears into their racing season. To see it pay off for them was priceless. They have all sacrificed to see this level of success.”

Bob Jones faced a Greenpower F24 race. Scoring involved 50 percent for endurance race (for the most laps around a track in 90 minutes without changing/charging their batteries and changing drivers twice) and 50 percent for presentation score (for the National Championship race, students had to write a script and record, edit and submit a video, according to a rubric for judges to score),” Gaines said.

Mill Creek students fielded three cars that all finished in Goblin Games’ top tier. ‘Goblin’ division is the elementary level for Greenpower races; officials determine a national ranking by totaling a team’s top three scores. Mill Creek’s cars placed in the top 15, and Car #700 won eight of nine races.

The race held special meaning for Mill Creek students. They raced in memory of their teacher/coach, the late Jackie Smith, who passed away on March 17.

“Our biggest obstacle, of course, was the loss of our beloved coach, Ms. Jackie Smith, less than two months ago. These were her kids, and this was her team,” Ortiz said.

When the team needed a teacher sponsor, Ortiz volunteered because her son is on the team, although Ortiz didn’t know much about Greenpower. “Team parents all banded together to help me with coaching, weekly practices and presentations. It truly took a village, and they made it happen,” Ortiz said.

“At Talladega, it was a hot weekend. Obviously, traveling two hours and staying overnight was a big deal for our families,” Ortiz said. “

A belt broke on Mill Creek’s championship car during their final race, but students and parents quickly repaired it. “The kids were so well behaved and worked so hard; it really made for a fun weekend,” Ortiz said.

In the Goblin Games, Mill Creek’s Car 750 placed fourth, and Car 775 placed 15th. These two cars ended the season in the top 10 and top 25, respectively.

“I really can’t put into words how special this win was for our team. One of the last times I talked to Ms. Smith, she talked about how the team was so close to achieving this title again, and she didn’t want to let them down,” Ortiz said. “The team’s goal all season had been to win for Ms. Smith, so seeing that happen was incredible.”

Mill Creek’s cars compete in three racing events — drag, slalom and circuit. Each race counts as a quarter of the overall score. A required presentation before the race accounts for 25 percent of the score. For Talladega, students made a website about the team — sites.google.com/greenpowerusa.net/mill-creek-elementary-school/home.

After Smith’s death, the team has always posted photographs of Jackie Smith in the team’s pit area for each race. “Talladega was no exception. We housed our cars in a NASCAR garage stall and had a banner dedicated to her hanging in the stall all weekend,” Ortiz said.

“We took her picture to the awards ceremony to make sure she was there with the kids as they won the championship. As the team was leaving Talladega after winning, a huge rainbow stretched across the sky. It was a truly unforgettable weekend!” Ortiz said.

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