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Road Work: Helping the Buckeye Bullet Students’ Speed Quest

The Buckeye Bullet has sped its way into the hearts of not only team members and alumni but also individuals who have supported the students for more than a decade.

These behind-the-scenes friends travel hundreds of miles to the Salt Flats to help the team in its quest to set landspeed records.

About 10 years ago, the Bullet team found itself in need of a long-haul truck driver to take the vehicle and its equipment to Utah. George Willard, a team member at the time who was majoring in welding engineering, contacted his former employer, Cowen Truck Line in Perrysville, Ohio, and the company readily agreed to help. Over the years, Cowen has provided drivers and vehicles to transport the Bullet at significantly reduced costs.

Cowen Truck Line drivers Rick Tilley (red shirt) and JC Cline (orange shirt) not only drive the Buckeye Bullet and all of the team’s equipment to the Salt Flats, but they stay to help the team.Cowen Truck Line drivers Rick Tilley (red shirt) and JC Cline (orange shirt) not only drive the Buckeye Bullet and all of the team’s equipment to the Salt Flats, but they stay to help the team.

In 2007, driver Rick Tilley started hauling the precious cargo in one semi, and another driver, JC Cline, later joined Tilley with a second truck as the Buckeye Bullet’s supplies and equipment grew over the years. The two not only transport the Bullet but also stay on the Flats with the team and help out with any request.

“Cowen has been a 10-year partner of the team,” says David Cooke, researcher at the Center for Automotive Research and former Bullet team leader. “Few, if any, logistics firms would allow their drivers and trucks to stay on site with a shipment and work with the Bullet team like the Cowen team does.”

The two men clearly are happy to lend their elbow grease after the 1,900-mile, three-day trip from Columbus to Utah.

“I enjoy the racing part of it,” says Tilley, who in his career with Cowen has had 5 million safe driving miles. “We like all the students we’ve worked with.”

“It’s something you’d never do normally,” says Cline, referring to his usual hauling assignments. “We get to be firsthand with the participants.”

Brian Moorhead, who like Cowen Truck Line has helped the team for a decade, first started working with the Bullet team as an electrical/software engineer with Ford, a sponsor of the Bullet.

“I went along with the Ford team in 2007 as part of the support crew,” he says. “At the time, my responsibilities were to go grocery shopping at 5 a.m., cook breakfast, clean up, cook lunch, clean up, cook dinner, clean up, and occasionally tweak a setting on the vehicle’s data logger.”

Later, he continued his involvement when he was a battery management system software architect for A123 Systems, which now provides the batteries for the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3.

Brian Moorhead has been helping the Buckeye Bullet team with control software since 2007.Brian Moorhead has been helping the Buckeye Bullet team with control software since 2007.“I adapted the A123 battery control software to be used with the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3’s eight-battery system,” he says.

Even though he left A123 Systems and now has his own company, Detroit area-based Quantum Whatever, which provides system and software architecture solutions, he still stays involved with the team.

“These days I maintain the code and make minor changes as the system evolves or issues are discovered in testing,” he says.

Another friend of the team also started with an early connection. Josh Chance was a welding technician when his company, EWI, partnered with the Bullet.

 Josh Chance, who made every weld on the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 chassis, travels from Colorado to help the team members when they’re chasing speed records on the Salt Flats. Josh Chance, who made every weld on the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 chassis, travels from Colorado to help the team members when they’re chasing speed records on the Salt Flats.“Through their sponsorship, he welded every weld on the VBB3 chassis,” says Cooke. Beginning in 2012, Chance did the work as an EWI employee for three years, but he also volunteered his own time.

Chance now lives in Colorado and has his own welding consulting business, JSC Enterprises, but he travels to almost all team events to help the students.

While his passion for and involvement in racing fires his interest in the Bullet, he also simply enjoys working with the team.

“I’m trying to see this project through and hopefully the full project to hit the 400 mph mark,” he says, “and possibly to see what’s next.”

By Joan Slattery Wall, Editor, The Ohio State University Office of Energy and Environment