History of Team Tennessee

Tradition. It’s a word that means a lot to the University of Tennessee (UT) campus. Whether it’s climbing the Hill to Ayres Hall, singing the Alma mater at the conclusion of a home football game, or wearing orange every Friday, we love the things that make us “the Volunteers.”

Since 1988, the UT Tickle College of Engineering has been a part of 10 of the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC). Across the span of 28 years, over 1000 UT students have participated in the unique design experiences. For UT, AVTC’s have become one of our honored traditions.  UT began its roots with the Methanol Marathon competition in 1988, the first AVTC hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors. The competition challenged students to convert a 1988 Chevrolet Corsica to use methanol fuel for the 1,100-mile, five day marathon from Detroit, Michigan through Toronto to Washington, D.C.


UT’s team of 19 met the challenge and exceeded expectations for its first AVTC, achieving first place in the marathon and taking home three additional awards. In fact, the team received congratulations all the way from Capitol Hill, including letters from Rep. Jimmy Duncan, while Sen. Al Gore presented the first place trophy to the team at the conclusion of the competition in D.C.


Many things have changed since the glory days of the Methanol Marathon. UT’s team has grown exponentially, going from 19 members to 42 members in total. These members range across a variety of skill levels and disciplines. In addition, the challenges and problems presented in AVTC’s have changed, shifting from methanol fuel to alternative energy, like hybrid electric vehicles and carsharing.

Dr. David “Butch” Irick, lead advisor of Team Tennessee since 2002, has seen the team through these many changes. “The technical parts of the competition are much more complex and expectations are much higher,” explained Irick. “The technologies we have employed in the project have advanced along with the industry.”

Tennessee owes much of its success to its leadership. As the lead advisor, Irick teaches courses at UT to prepare students for the specific skill set needed in AVTC competitions. In addition, Irick places a high emphasis on having his students hired before graduation. He works to connect students with companies, like General Motors, to set them up for success post-graduation.

With seventeen years of service to Team Tennessee, Irick has seen a number of great successes with the team and a few lessons learned. Through the many years, numerous students and teams, one things remains true. Team Tennessee is devoted to the future generation of the automotive industry.

Check out Team Tennessee through the years:


Methanol Marathon | 1988-1989



Natural Gas Challenge | 1991-1993



Propane Vehicle Challenge | 1993



HEV Challenge | 1993-1995



FutureCar Challenge | 1998-1999



FutureTruck Challenge | 2001-2004



Challenge X | 2004-2008




EcoCAR 2 | 2011-2014


EcoCAR 3 | 2014-2018


EcoCAR Mobility Challenge | 2018-2022