Electric Dragster Making Inroads with Hot Rod Fans

You really have to see this.

I’m not so much a fan of NASCAR. Or, to be honest, of any auto racing event or league. The picture of fossil-fueled cars driving around in circles as fast as they can, getting nowhere, is too painfully symbolic and apt for me. But, face it, clean energy and environmental awareness need a broader base of support than they’ve currently got. Still, I would not think that the NASCAR demographic is the place to find it.

But one fellow, either visionary or quixotic, it’s hard to say which, in Portland, OR did. The Portland Oregonian reported that John Wayland’s “White Zombie” has been clobbering gasoline-powered cars at the Portland International Raceway for the past few years. And in the process it’s been getting a lot of attention for electric cars among drag racing fans.

The White Zombie has been running on standard lead-acid batteries that Wayland has used since he started building electric cars in 1980. For those of you who need the specs, the White Zombie does 0-60 in 2.95 seconds, and has whupped gas-powered cars with muscular 600 horsepower engines.

Wayland, by his own admissions, isn’t out to save the world. "But I might help tip it one way or the other," he says. He just wants to “kick some butt” while showing people what his electric car can do. And it’s about to do more.

Last year, Wayland got a grant from Dow/Kokam to adopt some of their lithium polymer batteries. Wayland’s team has taken lithium polymer cells, originally designed for starting helicopters, and fashioned them into batteries for the White Zombie. This is the same technology used for laptop computer batteries, but on a massively different scale. When the White Zombie hits the track this month in Portland, it will have 345 pounds of batteries instead of the original 852 pounds, and those batteries will put out 772 ft-lbs of torque instantaneously. That’s 926 horsepower. Put THAT in your laptop!

Okay. Forget the specs if you want. But there are two points here. First, you have to see the video. It is <a href=”http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/07/zero_to_60_mph_in_l...“> here.</a> Second, we should all be thinking so creatively about how to reach out to people we don’t usually communicate with. It’s a big wide world out there. And it’s going to take all of us to keep it right.

Paul Birkeland lives in Seattle, WA, US, and develops Strategic Energy Management Systems for government, commercial, and industrial organizations through Integrated Renewable Energy.

Photo Brent Wojahn, The Oregonian