Pumpkins, physics, and fun

How fast can your pumpkin go?  That question was answered at Landon’s Pumpkin Races for Lower and Middle School students on October 23.

“Our annual Pumpkin Races are designed to help students learn to apply physics in a fun, festive atmosphere that stresses the importance of creativity, ingenuity, and fair play,” said Lower School Head Tara Montague.

The official rules called for each student or team’s “pumpkin racer” to use a single pumpkin only with two independent axels. Each racer could not have weights, passengers, hydraulics, or pre-fabricated chassis of any kind. Outside attachments were allowed (such as lights, limbs or other decorations) as long as they contribute to the overall theme of the racer.

“Many Middle and Lower School students have been working cooperatively with partners and/or parents to design their racers,” said Lower School science teacher Beth Hughes, who helped organize this year’s event along with Middle School teachers Jake Gurley and Jamie Sorge. “They have practiced important design skills of persistence, precision, and teamwork to make this happen.”

The winners in 2019 were Nate Poulin ’24 from the Middle School and Peter Bradley ’29 from the Lower School. According to Hughes, a bigger or heavier pumpkin racer is not necessarily a faster one.

“Students definitely want to know what makes a winner,” Hughes said. “The fastest pumpkin racer will likely roll straight down the hill, without hitting the curbs on the side of the road. But what are the most important factors to achieve this goal? The racer axles should be parallel. That is, the left side of the axles must be the same distance apart as the right side of the axles. Boys have been practicing their measuring skills to make this happen.”

“Another big factor is the centering of the weight on the pumpkin racer,” Hughes added. “This is inherently difficult because, as natural objects, pumpkins tend not to be perfectly symmetrical. So, adjustments must be made to overcome this obstacle. Lastly, as with any good design, once the initial design has been made, testing, troubleshooting, and tweaking must be done.”