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Drivers get a charge out of racing electric cars

August 29, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Motor sports typically bring to mind powerful vehicles with furiously roaring engines leaving trails of sullied exhaust fumes swirling in the air.

The Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, D.C., keeps the powerful vehicles motif, but leaves the roaring engines and exhaust fumes in the dust.

The group hosted the ninth annual Power of D.C. E.V. Racing Event Saturday in the Valley Mall parking lot.

About 10 drivers maneuvered their electric vehicles -- known as EVs -- around an Auto Cross course. The drivers navigated one at a time through a series of traffic cones, vying for the best times.

Coming from the course was the quiet whir of electric motors, squealing tires and an occasional faint smell of burning rubber.

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Charlie Garlow, vice president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, D.C., said the Power of D.C. event was held in conjunction with the East of Mississippi Electric Auto Association Conference. Garlow said about 40 electric vehicle enthusiasts from across the United States gathered at Comfort Suites in Hagerstown? for an EV display, Saturday's Auto Cross and for a NEDRA Drag Racing event scheduled for today at Mason-Dixon Dragway.

"We share ideas about ways to encourage more people to get excited about electric cars, motorcycles and bicycles," Garlow said.

Garlow, a lawyer for the federal government whose work deals with clean-air issues, touted the benefits of the vehicles. He said they are, in many ways, less expensive than gas cars.

"If you drove 30 miles on a gallon of gas, that would cost you 75 cents of electricity for that same 30 miles," Garlow said.

He also said EVs require less maintenance, as they do not need oil changes, tuneups, filters, radiator flushes and mufflers.

Garlow owns a tricycle-style EV called a Bug E. He bought the kit to build it for $3,000.

"It has an unusual clear bubble on top," he said. "It looks cool and that's a big factor. People like things that are cool to look at. It's human instinct."

The crowd favorites at the event were three ultra "cool-to-look-at" electric sports cars made by Tesla Motors. The vehicles sell for around $100,000. 

"(The Tesla) is very exciting. Very experimental. Very sexy," Garlow said.

Tom Jamison, 50, of Mount Airy, Md., owns a factory custom-painted prism green 2008 Tesla Roadster. Jamison said the vehicle can outperform more expensive gas-powered cars in the same performance category. He cited the Porsche GT3, which he said sells for around $270,000 and the Corvette ZR1, which costs about $120,000.

"I've always liked the idea of electric cars, and I've always liked the idea of sports cars," Jamison said. "I really think this is going to be the wave of the future, so I thought I might as well go for it. How often do you get to be a part of something like that?"

Many of the EV owners at the event said they do not have the income to spring for $100,000 on a car. But they are not without options. Most participants converted gas-powered cars, which they call ICE, for internal combustion engines.

Ken Barbour of Deptford, N.J., was inspired to convert his Geo Metro into an electric car after seeing the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car." The 2006 film explores the roles of various parties in limiting the development and adoption of electric vehicle technology in the United States.

After converting his own car, though, Barbour committed to a one-year field trial lease on a 2008 BMW Mini Cooper Electric Car -- the Mini E -- for $850 month. Barbour says while the cost seems steep, it was "a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

Besides, he says, the cost covers related expenses, including insurance and maintenance. At the end of his leasing year, the company will take the car apart and evaluate it to see how it held up.

"I haven't driven a gas car since I got this," Barbour said. "I drive this around in circles just for fun."

Chip Gribben, a member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, D.C., helped organize the event. He said the event shows the public that electric vehicles are "more than glorified gold carts."

"You hear people say, 'I'm gonna run over the person in an electric vehicle in front of me,' when really some of these vehicles are faster than their gasoline counterparts," Gribben said.

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