Tonight's Frontline Is About West Philly High School Gearheads

In the PBS Frontline documentary that airs tonight, a group of kids from a gritty urban high school in west Philadelphia are talking trash. They've built two hybrid cars designed to get 100 mpg and compete on the track, something they say automotive engineers haven't done so much of.

Introducing Fast Times at West Philly High.

"We can be just as innovative as the CEO's of Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan," Jacques Wells, one of the students, told Frontline producers. "And we don't even have diplomas yet."


The film follows a group of students who were part of West Philadelphia High School's after school auto club. They spent three years building hybrid cars to compete in the 2010 Progressive Insurance Automotive X competition, which boasted a $10 million purse.

They didn't win the prize, but their design beat the one the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's team entered, and it nipped at the heels of designs by Cornell University, Tesla Motors, and Tata Motors.

Not only were they the only high school team entered in the competition, but their high school isn't known as a glittering beacon of academia. It's in a rough neighborhood. But Simon Hauger, the math teacher who ran the auto club, supported his students, eager to show them something other than the rote drudgery they experienced in the classroom on a day to day basis.

I'm excited to watch this. It sounds like the kind of automotive drama that those idiotic reality-buildup shows on cable always leave me hungry for (don't bother asking why I ever watch those).


"Fast Times at West Philly High" airs tonight on PBS at 10 Eastern.

Photo credit: Frontline

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