Green Light: How a Poughkeepsie native and college friends built an
innovative electric race car
June 26, 2019 Stephen Haynes
[images / (Photos Submitted)
Poughkeepsie's Sean Sheridan takes the electric race car he helped build for
a spin during a Formula SAE tournament in Nebraska last week
Poughkeepsie native Sean Sheridan poses next to the electric race car he
helped build on graduation day from the University of Akron in May
Members of the University of Akron electric racing team work on the ZER-19,
the battery-powered race car they built
Members of the University of Akron electric racing team pose behind their
car. From left: Marcus Caddiell, Natalie Allen, Sean Sheridan, Andrew
Penlington, Elena Falcione, Zach Demetriades, Adam Kuhar and Adam Long
A group of "misfits" spent the last several days showing off their
battery-powered race car.
If the image conjured by that statement is that of a remote-controlled toy,
Sean Sheridan understands. It’s far from the reality, but he understands.
“This isn’t something I would’ve ever fathomed being a part of,” said
Sheridan, an Arlington High School graduate. “I didn’t even grow up watching
racing on TV, so it’s not something I ever thought about.”
That is, until the Poughkeepsie native was recruited to help design and
construct an actual race car. The vehicle is electric and does run on
batteries, but it's operated by a driver and resembles somewhat a classic
Formula One open-wheel car. And it was built for competition.
The car, valued at about $60,000, can reach 80 mph. It recently has run
races in Canada and Nebraska, and done well, finishing in the top six.
The objective of these competitions, Sheridan said, is "innovation." And the
car, the first of its kind at the University of Akron, which invested
thousands into its creation, was built with a green future in mind.
There is a belief within the engineering community that electric powertrains
and environmentally-friendly vehicles are the future of automotive design,
thus, several colleges have made the investment to establish electric racing
The tournament in Nebraska, which ended Saturday night with Akron finishing
in fifth place, was the last race for this 20-member crew and the car will
return to the school, to be passed on to future teams.
But in helping to build the car, Sheridan, a 23-year-old who graduated magna
cum laude this spring with a Mechanical Engineering degree from the
University of Akron, gained the praise of his peers.
“You learn about dynamics and design in the classroom and it’s boring, then
you do something like this and see it in action and it’s so exciting,” he
"There is no monetary reward for your time and effort and it is a huge
undertaking," he continued. "But through it all, you (learn about) balancing
team abilities, personalities and schedules well enough to meet your goals.
The experiences are well worth it."
Among those experiences for Sheridan was being part of the first team at
Akron to build a functional electric vehicle for competition, and proving
wrong some skeptics on his own campus in the process.
"Judges and other teams were amazed that these students could do what they
did in only nine months and with so few team members,” said Daniel Deckler,
the team's faculty adviser. “I am extremely proud of their accomplishments.”
How this came about
Akron's Zips Racing program has existed since 1990, its teams first
constructing combustion-engine cars. The Ohio-based school made its foray
into electric cars in 2016, although the vehicle built then didn't pass
technical inspection and wasn't allowed to enter a Formula Society of
Automotive Engineers competition.
A few of Sheridan's friends and former classmates were members of that team
and one of them, Adam Kuhar, approached him last summer to ask if he would
join them. After all, his friend suggested, the work there could be used as
his senior design project.
The result, Sheridan said, was the “coolest” of cerebral achievements.
The ZER-19, designed last fall and debuted in April, took sixth place in its
first race, a Formula SAE tournament in Ontario earlier this month. The team
then placed fifth last weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"This was amazing and we're incredibly proud," said Sheridan, whose group
took second for "efficiency" in the 31-team competition. "This is more than
I would've imagined at first."
Sheridan’s specialty was schematics and he took the lead in designing the
vehicle suspension. But on a small team of college students, hands would
have to get dirty and roles quickly expanded. Sheridan soon taught himself
to weld and played a key role in the assembly of the vehicle.
He remembers vividly a December day, at the end of finals week, when he and
three others spent 19 straight hours working on the car.
There was some doubt expressed along the way, some of which came from fellow
engineering students and workers in the machine shop familiar with the past
“We're a group of misfits and people were like, ‘So you’re really gonna
build a car? You think you can make something besides an expensive
paperweight?’” Sheridan said. “Then when we drove it and placed in Canada,
that’s when everyone was different with us.”
Sheridan's fiancé, Alexandra, recently graduated medical school and secured
a residency in Columbus, Ohio. The couple will move there this summer and he
will pursue a career in robotics and automation design.
The job search was put on hold temporarily, though, as Sean enjoyed “an
amazing” final semester of college.
“It was an odd undertaking, but he loved it,” Sean’s father, Brian Sheridan,
said of the electric race team. “Everyone is proud and super excited for
him. From a parent’s perspective, what could be better? He found something
he loves and he’s good at it.” ...
[image] Poughkeepsie's Sean Sheridan sits in the driver's seat as members
of the University of Akron electric racing team surround him during an April
unveiling of the vehicle they built.
The next fall he attended a soccer game with his dad and cousin at St.
John’s University in Queens, Brian Sheridan’s alma mater, and the Red Storm
was hosting Akron. Sean always had an interest in engineering and his
father, in passing, mentioned that Akron had a good soccer team and a
renowned engineering program. Sean immediately began doing research on his
smartphone and started his application, during the game.
He was accepted. The initial plan was for him to play for the men’s soccer
team, but he soon realized that he couldn’t balance those obligations with
the demands of an Engineering major. And, so, soccer was again punted.
“I think he got his competitive nature from soccer,” Brian Sheridan said.
“He doesn’t play anymore, but that drive and competitiveness is still in
It translated into a diligence in the classroom he hadn’t shown before. Sean
always was bright, his father said, but he was far more focused on sports
than academics and his grades in high school didn’t always reflect his
With soccer off the table in college though, he managed a 3.76 GPA,
including a 3.99 in his mechanical engineering classes. (He’s still upset
about that one A-minus that cost him the 4.0).
Given his aptitude for math and schematics, and his success with
class-assigned group projects, Kuhar figured Sean would be a great asset to
his electric racing team.
Building a race car
“I had the skills to contribute right away on a basic level,” Sean said,
“but I had a lot to learn. It was a huge undertaking.”
More than six weeks were spent just on welding together steel tubes. Matt
Evans, who built the frame, had some prior experience, having worked on
combustion cars before.
“I’ve been welding for a long time, then out of the blue he starts talking
to me about welding,” said Brian Sheridan, an iron worker in New York City.
“Now we’re comparing welding burns and he understands where I’m coming
The rear-wheel drive car has more than 100 horsepower and runs on 432
lithium-ion batteries. The team designed the vehicle’s motor, accumulator,
power train, converter and electric components. The black one-seater is
about five-feet long and weighs 510 pounds. It has safety features including
front and side crumple zones to absorb impact.
The group last summer started working on the plans, figuring out how the
machinery would operate, and then construction began in December. The
vehicle was completed in late April and made its trial run on a Fiat
Chrysler test course, before being revealed to the school in a ballyhooed
The group was “overwhelmed with pride” during the unveiling, having the
attention of a rapt audience and Deckler speaking effusively about the job
they had done.
“But that wasn’t the summit,” Sean said. “When you get in and drive it,
that’s the best feeling. Before that, it’s a concept. You spend all this
time planning and building. But when you see the actual finished product,
that’s when it gets you.”
The University of Akron contributed about $10,000 to the construction, Sean
said, but most of the parts were donated to them by local sponsors. The
school also gave them use of trucks and trailers with which to transport the
car for competitions.
They drove about six hours to Barrie, a city about 60 miles north of
Toronto, for the Formula SAE North tournament, which involved 13 teams.
There, Akron took fourth in dynamics (an evaluation of acceleration, skid
pad, and autocross) and sixth overall.
Brian Sheridan joked that his son seemingly always puts himself in difficult
situations, but has them turn out in his favor. It certainly was so with his
decision to rush graduation and move to Germany, then the serendipitous
re-route to Akron, that led to this.
“When would you get an opportunity to do this?” Sean asked rhetorically.
“When else would you get to build a race car and compete? This was awesome!”
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