Thrilling finishes, roaring crowds, false starts and even pit-stop repairmen: it’s not the Indy 500, but the annual solar car race at Edgartown School may be the closest thing the Vineyard has.

On Thursday, fifth graders from every Island school gathered to take part in the race. All the kids teamed up in pairs to build solar-powered cars from scratch. Kara Gelinas, a science teacher from Edgartown who leads the project, has been involved with the event for upwards of a decade.

Edgartown School science teacher Kara Gelinas organizes the event each year. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“It’s a really great way to teach kids about renewable energy,” she said.

“And there’s no class!” a joyous fifth grader added.

That didn’t mean there wasn’t learning. Arik Goff, a teacher from Tisbury School, described the parameters. Each car had to contain a soda can (he called it “the can of science”) which acts as a payload, an assigned solar panel and an assigned motor. “Anything else they are free to engineer with their own ideas,” he said.

Those ideas proved quite intuitive. Some kids ditched the wheels provided by Pitsco for CDs, while others thought a tricycle design would prevent their car from veering off course. Pedro Alves and Erin Gilley made an adjustable solar panel so that it could be angled depending on the direction of the sun. As their car whizzed past all the others to the finish line about 60 feet away, it appeared their ingenuity had paid off. The pair won the Edgartown School’s first heat.

Before the races began, all students had to face a trio of judges for an interview. The judges, who included parents, volunteers and teachers, drilled the young engineers on three categories: technical merit, design and knowledge. The kids were prepared, showcasing their fluency with words like photon, PN junction, electrons, and diode that would have left even Click and Clack agape.

Pit stop stress is part of the package. — Mark Alan Lovewell

In years past, much of that knowledge went for naught, as cloudy weather moved the festivities indoors, meaning battery packs had to replace the solar panels. This year with bright sunshine, Ms. Gelinas said she “couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.”

While the winners enjoyed that day outdoors, roaming the playground and munching on generous donations from Chilmark Chocolates, the less fortunate found themselves at the ever-busy repair table. A trio of eighth graders and retired teacher Gary Smith formed the solar car race pit crew, hot-glue gunning loose wires back onto chassis, adjusting axles, and as Henry D’Andrea said, “dealing with general dysfunction.” Their hard work allowed almost every car to make it to the finish line.

For Vanessa Forrester, a teacher at the Tisbury School, the race was personal. Her husband teaches at the West Tisbury School, meaning that the two “were competing against each other,” she joked. “I’m just so anxious to see how they perform!”

Although there were a few bitten fingernails, most viewed the races as a fun way to mark the beginning of summer and mark the passage into middle school.

“It unites the Island,” Ms. Forrester said afterward. “And the kids just absolutely love it.”