History meets the future with the arrival of solar cars in Cuba “Route 66 Mural City”

The futuristic looking solar car from the University of Michigan rolled along Rt. 66 by the Truman mural

The futuristic-looking solar car from the University of Michigan rolled along Rt. 66 by the Truman mural.

Cuba, MO sometimes bills itself as the town where art meets history. On Thursday, June 24, it became the town where art and history met the future. Traveling east on Route 66, solar cars from the 20th Anniversary Tour of the Midwest 2010 American Solar Challenge rolled into Cuba, drawing interest and prompting photographs.

The cars looked like something that you might find in a Jetsons’ cartoon. But the solar teams are serious about their cars and the use of solar technology as an alternative energy source.

Starting in 1990, the race is designed to see how far solar cars can go. The American Solar Challenge is an event that fosters friendly competition and teamwork, and utilizes the sun as an energy source.

The race began on  at Broken Arrow, OK on June 20. Teams follow a 1200-mile route along Route 66 and finish in Naperville, IL on June 26. The route is broken into stages with mandatory stops along the way, where they meet with press and interact with the public.   There are international teams from Canada, Germany, and Taiwan. Rolla’s MO University of Science and Technology has a team . You can see the teams and details about their cars here. You can read technical details of the cars here.

With temperatures in the Midwest in the high 90s, drivers probably realized the true meaning of solar. The drivers’ pods are ventilated but not air conditioned.

Missouri University School of Science and Technology has a car in the contest.

Missouri University School of Science and Technology has a car in the contest. In 1940 it was Harry Truman on Route 66; today, it is cutting edge technology.

The Northwestern University's driver was probably plenty warm on this hot Missouri day.

The Northwestern University's driver was probably plenty warm on this hot Missouri day.

Winning takes a reliable car, efficient driving, and a good strategy.  The solar teams attract sponsors, develop public relations, and execute a two-year plan for their car/race. Many teams have engineers on them, but they also have business majors.

To qualify for the Solar Challenge, teams must participate in Formula Sun Grand Prix, a 3-day track race, where the most laps completed wins. It takes a skilled driver to manage the track’s tight turns. The event also gives practice to the team’s pit crew.

This car looks striking against the backdrop of the murals turn-of-the-century business scene on the mural.

This space-age looking car makes a contrast against the backdrop of the mural's turn-of-the-century business scene.

The University of Kentucky's blue car draws some attention.

The University of Kentucky's blue car draws some attention.

This car weighs 400 pounds and has a LIthium Polymer battery and a backup motor.

This car weighs 400 pounds and has a Lithium Polymer battery and a backup motor.

To see how the various teams are doing, visit the website for standings.

The Mother Road has seen a lot of sights from the Dust Bowlmigration to the Bunion Run. These distinctive cars are just another installment in its history. For a short span of time, Cuba, MO “Route 66 Mural City” had a colorful new slice of history that was a contrast against scenes of the town’s past as painted in the town’s murals.

Thanks to photographers George Reed and Joyce Stewart for the use of their photographs.

See “Preservation in Cuba, MO creates ageless beauty” to read of Harry Truman’s visit to Cuba.

Read “If this corner could talk…,” to read the Hayes Shoe Store mural called Prosperity Corner.

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