Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear

Grand Prix inspires young Detroiters to think big

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor.

By Tom Lang
Former Detroit Piston center Earl Cureton says learning through sporting events like the Grand Prix can help kids apply the lessons to real-world jobs.

When people hear or think about the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, it's natural that mental images often go to race cars, fast speeds and world-class drivers.

Yet when Detroit Public School students like Arianna Carter and Declavius Branch reflect on the Grand Prix weekend, they think of 'friction, momentum and kinetic energy.'

The two seventh-graders at Hutchinson Middle School recently talked about how their hands-on experiences with the Fifth Gear program, sponsored by PNC and now in its fourth year at the Grand Prix, has impacted their educational experiences in the Detroit Public Schools.

Both young people were part of last year's program at Belle Isle, which has grown this year to 700 students of many age groups invited to attend on Thursday, May 28. There, racing professionals will show kids how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can positively impact students' futures. Engineers from Chevrolet and its racing partner Ilmor Engineering, along with professional race car drivers, will spend most of that day using various elements of the fast-paced racing environment to bring classroom lessons to life.

Carter said last year's trip to Belle Isle helped her learn more about science vocabulary and even produced an urge to potentially be a race car driver.

"Words like friction," she said, "an example of friction is brakes on a car. An example for kinetic is books falling and an example for potential energy is a rock at the top of a hill."

'It's all based on STEM'

The Grand Prix also engaged high school students from the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody High School in Detroit through its partnership with Comerica Bank. Winning TUDOR SportsCar Championship drivers Ricky and Jordan Taylor visited the school to meet with students over the winter and on Friday, May 29, about 30 DIT students will visit the Grand Prix to meet with drivers and racing executives about STEM-related careers in racing as part of Comerica Bank Free Prix Day activities.

Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Chip Ganassi Chevy in the Verizon IndyCar Series, grew up in a household where his dad engineered race cars in Formula One and IndyCar. Kimball said working with kids to show them all sides of racing, including how racing technology inside the car monitors his glucose to stabilize his Type 1 diabetes, is significant.

"I can't think of a better environment to teach STEM initiatives than through motorsports," Kimball said on Belle Isle. "You have the excitement factor, the adrenaline. You have cool cars, great venues, guys, girls driving cars 230 miles an hour, racing wheel-to-wheel with each other for laps on end. And you break that down and it's all based on STEM initiatives. It's all based on that science, the technology, the engineering, the mathematics. That's really what makes racing go around.

Using Detroit's Creative Community

College-aged students are also benefitting from programs due to Detroit hosting the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

The College for Creative Studies spearheaded the annual design contest to create the Official Grand Prix commemorative poster for the third consecutive year. For many months, students worked on concepts, designs and illustrations to try making it into the top five finalists.

"What really warms my heart is all the community engagement that we have as a result of the Grand Prix," said Bud Denker, chairman of the Grand Prix. "We have the College of Creative Studies that does the poster contest. They do great designs. Great minds; great artistic people there.

"The cool part of what we do is racing, but one of the coolest components for me is the students who are involved in the program because we have a Grand Prix race here in town."

That includes Wayne State University students getting the chance at professional experience using and channeling their social media skills individually learned and from class work at the college.

Winning TUDOR SportsCar Championship drivers Ricky (far right) and Jordan Taylor (front, far left) visited the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody High School to meet with students over the winter.

"We wanted to engage students here locally that were involved in social media, making it real world for them, learning about social media opportunities in college," Denker added. "But why not apply that and take it to the Grand Prix and help us out, also, with our activities. With digital media being such an important part of how people consume news…it's really worked out for us very well and we hope it continues for many years to come."

Lessons Learned

Verizon IndyCar Series team owner and driver Ed Carpenter said showing students of all ages the various components of the sport is smart for business.

"Whether you're a race driver or mechanic, engineer, on the marketing side or sales side – you look at a race team and it's a mini business that has a whole lot of talented people in it," he said. "So you can use [racing] as a model for many different things."

Former Detroit Piston center Earl Cureton said in his era, the focus was more on just get a degree, just graduate. He told the PNC Grow Up Great students at Fleming Early Learning Center he was one of the few able to have a professional ball career, but now the NBA hires mathematicians as well for analytics. He said learning through sporting events like the Grand Prix helps kids apply the lesson better.

From the partnership between the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and PNC through the Grow Up Great and Fifth Gear education programs, pre-kindergarten DPS students learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through motorsports and various activities.

"They get a goal they can work toward and know more where they're going and what it can do for them," Cureton said. "They can compare it to what they're doing in school. … It kind of opens their eyes up to know what they're doing...when they're studying and working toward something that's going to be positive in their future."

Declavius Branch said he was impacted last year by the Detroit Cass Technical High School robotics team demonstration at the Grand Prix Fifth Gear; he was captivated by controlling a robot by computer or phone.

"I want to do something like that," he said, "or create better."

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor, Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.