By Shannon Houston
A 1980 Medford High School graduate has developed a first-of-its-kind, fully electric off-road racing vehicle that is capable of performing alongside traditional fuel-driven off-road vehicles.
The SRI-EV1 made its debut to the racing world on April 28 when it ran in several segments of the grueling NORRA Mexican 1000 off-road race.
Jeffrey Smith said he first came across the idea after a suggestion was put forward at a driver’s meeting in November 2011 to create an electric off-road vehicle that could withstand difficult terrain for potential use by the military.
“At that time I said, Oh, that’s interesting,’ ” said Smith. He started the project the following February.
Smith, 50, who lives in Oceanside, Calif., is a practicing psychotherapist and a retired United States Marine Corps officer. He has also been a professional racer for seven years and has competed in races such as the Baja 1000, which he described as a “bucket-list kind of thing.” He traces some of his racing passions to his time in high school when got his first motorcycle.
Smith founded Strategic Recovery Institute in 2010 with the intention of creating and marketing electric-powered products to provide jobs for graduates within a year-long rehabilitation program that teaches participants to help themselves. Smith says that the company wants to avoid running off of philanthropy or charity, and he hopes it will eventually be self-sustaining with the products it creates.
“All things green and sustainable is really what my passion is,” said Smith.
Smith approached EV West early on in the process to build the powertrain for the SRI-EV1. EV West is a company that specializes in powertrains and other technology for electric vehicles.
“It was a wonderful marriage of talent pools,” said Michael Bream, owner of EV West.
“I’ve got a great team of people around me,” said Smith. Along with EV West, SRI worked with Strategic Racing Designs to develop the vehicle.
The NORRA Mexican 1000 covers most of the 1,200-mile Baja Peninsula in Mexico over four consecutive days of racing broken down into multiple stages of about 95 miles in length. Smith said the race was a good fit for the SRI-EV1 as the car can travel between 80 and 100 miles before needing to recharge batteries.
The SRI-EV1 produces 535 horsepower and 750 foot-pounds of torque. Power for the vehicle is stored inside 138 3.3-volt lithium-ion cells in two battery packs. The car was geared to allow for a top speed of 108 mph, though racers did not travel that fast over rough, off-road terrain. Top speeds on those courses would equate to roughly 50 mph, Smith said.
With the removal of the traditional fuel, an electric car costs thousands of dollars less to operate during a race of significant length, according to Smith.
The SRI-EV1 was not raced in all segments of the NORRA Mexican 1000, instead participating in select portions of the course. Smith said he did not expect to win any of the segments, but noted the car finished with respectable times. The race functioned more as the SRI-EV1’s debut to the public.
“We’re wanting to show that this car can compete,” said Smith.
“We made history; this was the first,” said Bream. “Years from now, people will remember.”
Smith said the recent proliferation of green energy products stems from more recent awareness of the importance for such products.
Bream said his company’s focus is to have fun and develop unique technology that will create products that truly reduce their carbon footprint.
“If we wanna have fun, keep racing and doing the things we love, we’re going to have to change at some point,” Bream said. “Let’s be that change.”
Bream said that he expected it would be some time before the new technology catches on in popularity. However, he said, in time electric racers will become the norm.
“We just want to inspire people,” said Bream.
According to Smith, the next step will be to build extra battery packs as well as the trucks, trailers and hoists that are required to install the packs, which weigh 900 pounds each. Smith will also be preparing for future races with the SRI-EV1.
Shannon Houston is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.