Another championship for Cougar Strong Racing
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was no contest.
Cougar Strong Racing, representing Long Cane Middle School, participated in six races during the 2019-2020 Greenpower USA season.
When the season ended in March, it was Cougar Strong Racing’s two teams sitting atop the national rankings in the modified division.
The 999 team finished with the most points to win the middle-school national championship for the second consecutive year.
Cougar Strong Racing’s 000 team placed second in the country, and the gap between it and the third-place team was massive.
“We were in those top two spots early, and we stayed in them the whole season,” said Matthew Graham, a teacher at Long Cane Middle School who oversees Cougar Strong Racing. “Our lead was more significant this year than it was last year as far as the separation from our two teams and the third-place team. It was a stronger statement this year than it was last year.”
Cougar Strong Racing was formed a little more than two years ago, and the team has made massive strides in a short period of time.
“This was our second full season,” Graham said. “Last week was the two-year anniversary of finishing the first car the first season. So, it was like only 24 months have gone by. I never would have dreamed that we would have had this experience. It’s been fun. I just hope to keep it going.”
In its first full year of competition, the 999 team claimed the national title, with the 000 team placing second.
As both teams geared up for year two, the question was could Cougar Strong Racing continue to excel?
Turns out, the teams were even more dominant.
At the different races, teams earn points based on performance on the track, as well as a presentation given before a group of judges.
The 999 team finished its six races with 542 points, while the 000 team had 535 points.
The Eagles representing Challenger Middle School from Huntsville, Ala. were the next closest team with 334 points, a sizeable gap of more than 200 points.
“I went back and started looking at rosters, and I noticed that on the 999 team that won first, there were only five students that were returning from last year, so two-thirds of the team was brand-spanking new,” Graham said. “The leadership positions that we had, they were returning, so they got to teach the new crew coming in what they’d learned the previous year. That makes a difference.”
Unfortunately for Cougar Strong Racing, the season ended early because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The team was preparing for its seventh competition when it found out that it wouldn’t be able to travel.
“The one in March, we were so excited about it,” Graham said. “It was a first-time event, and we’d never been to this school. So it was going to be a lot of fun. We found out the day before that the system wasn’t going to let us travel. What made it so hard that all the Alabama teams were still going to get to go, and now they’re going to get to earn points and we’re not. It ended up just being a small group from the Huntsville area that still competed in that March race. After that, they went ahead and canceled everything else for the rest of the season.”
Even though the season ended prematurely, Cougar Strong Racing had nearly as many races as it had last year.
One of those races was the Diverse Power Grand Prix in LaGrange, and Cougar Strong Racing earned the top-two spots in that race, with the 999 team finishing first.
“We ended up doing so many more, that we were only one race shy of competing in as many races as we did last year,” Graham said. “We were originally going to 10 until those last three dropped off.”
One of the most impressive statistics for Cougar Strong Racing was the number of miles logged during the season.
During a race, the idea is to complete as many laps as possible during the allotted time during a heat.
Not surprisingly, Cougar Strong Racing dominated that category.
The 999 team accumulated 342.62 miles during the six races, and the 000 team covered 322.67 miles, giving the two teams a combined 665.29 miles.
That was 130 miles more than any other team in the country, and that includes the middle-school and high-school divisions.
“What was so hard is we knew how well we were doing, and we were anticipating setting some serious records by the end of the season,” Graham said. “And so we stayed in the top two spots, but we didn’t get to pile on those miles like we hoped to.”
Graham is appreciative of everyone who has helped get the program to this point, including the parents who are always willing to do whatever is necessary.
“They’ve really suppo