On Thursday, Sept. 15, five members of Boise State's Greenspeed club will travel to Utah's famed Bonneville Salt Flats to try to break the land-speed record for a vehicle powered by vegetable oil. They're confident they can break the record of 98 mph. They're so confident, in fact, they have the existing 215 mph record for all petroleum-fueled trucks in their sights.
It's quite a task, considering that a year ago they didn't have a vehicle. But the idea has been a decade-long dream for Boise State junior Dave Schenker, 34. When not in class, Schenker's team, including senior Seth Feuerborn, 34, has been spending every precious moment with their most unlikely of race cars: a souped-up 1998 Chevrolet S-10 pickup.
Boise State is known for its nontraditional students. That would certainly include you.
Schenker: Definitely. I was homeschooled. I worked in construction for many, many years. I eventually had my own metal fabrication shop. I started messing around with trucks, diesel trucks specifically. I found out there was a lot more to an engine than I could possibly imagine. When I started looking at school, I thought mechanical engineering would be a good fit.
Feuerborn: I grew up in Pocatello. When I graduated from high school, I did a year and a half at Idaho State University. Being young and naive, I thought I would spend the rest of my life behind a desk. I like cars, and at the time, I had to pay somebody a ridiculous amount of money to fix my car. So I went to a vocational school and became a mechanic. I worked as a mechanic for years, but some of the old timers kept telling me you're too smart to be doing this. I went back to school through the Re-education Trade Act. I've been at Boise State since 2009.
Can you explain how a diesel-fueled engine would use something like vegetable oil?
Schenker: It's not really a conversion. The vehicle actually has an extra tank. You have your diesel tank and you have your vegetable oil tank. You fire it up, get it to operating temperature, and it starts burning vegetable oil automatically.
How much would it cost an average motorist to put an extra tank in their vehicle?
Schenker: The complete kit is just over $2,000, but a lot of people do it themselves using things they find for about $600.
How did your club, Greenspeed, begin?
Schenker: The day I started school, I would talk about the idea in every class I took. It took me over a year and a half to find the right person as a co-officer for the club. It took another year to convince the school to let us be a club. It's not like we're the yo-yo club. We were constantly meeting with lawyers and risk management.
Because there was the possibility of danger?
Feuerborn: Sure, because of the speeds involved in breaking the land record.
Schenker: We are 99 percent sure that we will break the land-speed record for vegetable oil on Sept. 15. Our ultimate goal is to beat the petroleum-based land-speed record.
When did you start working on the truck?
Schenker: We got a donation of $2,000, plus each club member kicked in 100 bucks. We eventually found a truck on Craigslist for $2,500. We bought it in March. In May, we got a business in Garden City to donate a six-month lease for a garage. In late May, I started calling potential sponsors. By Aug. 16, we had an operational vehicle.
When you're racing on the Salt Flats, does the desert heat help you?
Schenker: The hotter it is, the thinner the air, so it's easier to go through. But you don't get as much oxygen into your engine, so it's a toss-up.
Is the truck street legal?
Feuerborn: No. One of the school's stipulations from Boise State is that we are only allowed to drive the vehicle on the Salt Flats.
Let's say you break the record. What then?
Schenker: We'll set the bar even higher next time.