Student Spotlight: Victor Zhang (‘22) drives homemade go-cart around campus


Nancy Lin

Mr. Kays and Victor Zhang (’22) move the go-kart to the center of the road and prepare to make final checks.

Have you ever thought about what it really takes to build a go-kart from scratch? Victor Zhang (‘22) challenged himself last year to do just that, using parts he sourced during the pandemic out of his love of physics to build a go-kart with the help of Brian Kays, science department faculty.

On November 17th, Victor got ready for Webb’s first-ever Grand Prix in front of the Copeland Donahue Theatre. With his go-cart, nicknamed “The Flash,” Victor drove out to the museum steps and back, celebrating when he returned. He attached a lightning bolt pendant to the front of the go-kart, a symbol that echoes its name.

It all started on April 10th, 2020, when Victor decided to build a go-kart from scratch. Ever since he was young, he has been infatuated with go-karts. When he was just six years old, he used to fondly watch his mom drive a golf cart, and at ten years old, he got to drive his own.

“I wanted to build a go-kart because I was bored during quarantine,” Victor said. “I wanted something to do, so I started the project. Another reason was because I like building things and I like cars.”

And it was as simple as that: he had a goal and the means to accomplish it, so he started his journey. Although Victor is familiar with engines and the physics behind creating one, his road was not without bumps along the way.

“Often times, it wouldn’t work out and I ended up with several broken parts,” Victor said. “There were a lot of failures I had to take because I was on a pretty tight timeframe, and I had a pretty small budget. There wasn’t a lot of room for mistakes. Now I realize that making mistakes is part of the process to make it better.”

Initially, Victor planned to finish the go-kart before August 2020, when school was scheduled to start but found that the resources he needed were unavailable due to the pandemic. Although COVID-19 put a damper on his project, Victor was not discouraged and took a step back.

“I decided to use the time to design the kart a little better and buy the parts when they were more accessible and cheaper.” Victor said.

The first portion of his project was done at home in Claremont, while the second was completed on campus with the supervision of Mr. Kays.

“It was very generous of Webb to give me a specific place for me to build the go-kart, which is [the wood shop] between North and South Hutch,” Victor said. “I’m very grateful for the resources I was given by my supervisor, who is also my physics teacher, Mr. Kays. He helped me a lot during the building process. He supervised me while I was using tools and made sure that I was okay when I was using them.”

“I provided some technical support when he had questions or told him places where he could find those answers, but by the time he was here building on campus, he was at a stage of build that didn’t require too much, and he already knew exactly what he was doing,” Mr. Kays said.

Wednesday, November 17th, at 2:45 p.m., Victor drove “The Flash” for the first time in front of an audience. The eager crowd stationed themselves along his track, from the start/finish line at Copeland Donahue Theatre, to the Crossroads, to the Museum steps where he would perform his U-turn.

“Before the race I felt excited and nervous at the same time because about an hour before the race, I installed new parts on [the go-kart] and I haven’t gotten any drive time on it before the race, so I was a little nervous about the parts,” Victor said. “The excitement part was kind of expected because I love driving it.”

Getting ready for his run, Victor prepared his vehicle for takeoff as Mr. Kays revved the engine.

Prior to the race, Victor did multiple checks to his go-kart, one which involved opening the fuel valve. He was in a rush to get to B-block after lunch, resulting in the fuel valve not being properly closed. Victor had not told Mr. Kays that he was supposed to turn off the fuel valve before moving the car. If the engine is tilted, the fuel would overflow into the retainer, preventing air from entering it, which resulted in the go-kart malfunctioning towards the start.

“The air-fuel mixture was really rich, too much fuel for air, and it wasn’t burning enough things and then it got clogged up a lot,” Victor said. “After starting it again and figuring out the retainer was flooded, I gave it a lot of gas and managed to unclog the exhaust, that’s what the big pop was, and after all the residual fuel was burned and exited the engine, the engine was running in the normal air fuel mixture and started working fine.”

Thankfully, they were able to restart the engine and the crowd began their count down. “Three! Two! One! Go!” Victor zooms off, leaving a trail of smoke and a chorus of cheers.