Racing to the sun

Letha Young, a lieutenant with the Missouri S&T police department and advisor to the university’s Solar Car Design Team, poses with the team’s car.

Letha Young, a lieutenant with the Missouri S&T police department and advisor to the Solar Car Design Team, poses with the team’s car. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Missouri S&T’s Solar Car Team will line up on Sunday, July 26, to compete against 16 other teams at the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2015 in Austin, Texas. Letha Young will make sure the students get there safe and sound.

Young, a lieutenant on the police force at S&T, has traveled with the Solar Car Team to competitions since 2008. With a team-made badge designating her “Team Mom/Advisor,” she helps the team stay organized and fed and makes sure members follow all safety procedures.

“In 2008, I was on evening shift and would stop in to the student design area (a metal building that was located on a section of the present-day Havener Center parking lot) and check out how they were doing,” says Young. “The team members asked me to help them out with the competition and I said sure. I have been going ever since, because that is why I am here, for the students.”

Young has a strong dedication to the team and its students. She uses her vacation time from work to travel with the team and frequently checks in with team members. In 2013, she was formally named a staff advisor to the team, which now operates out of the Kummer Student Design Center.

Besides stopping by the design center on her weekend shifts and making sure the team is on track with its build, Young serves in various other roles. First aid, radio operations and driving a scout car in front of the solar car caravan to protect it on long-distance drives are a given, but the job also comes with some unexpected duties.

“One of the duties of the scout car is to clear the road of debris, so whenever there is something in the road or on the shoulder, a student team member in my passenger seat would have to hop out and move it,” says Young. “I had what the team calls the ‘Shovel of Death’ in my family van during one practice drive and along with it comes the smell. They use it to clear roadkill away from the car’s path.”

But there are benefits to being with the team as well. Young says one of her favorite memories with the team was during the American Solar Challenge in 2010. After finishing the 665-mile race, the team ran along with the car as it crossed the line to finish fifth. Young was there with the team crossing as well, but behind them picking up dropped hats and lost flip-flops. “Because I’m the mom,” she says.

“I am excited to go with the team this month and am really looking forward to it,” Young says. “I already have the first dinner planned – I will barbecue.”

By Peter Ehrhard