“Broken” cars test high school technicians in repair contest
Speed is part of all automotive races, but the speed required in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition is achieved not with a gas pedal but with a wrench, diagnostic tools and a quick mind.
The annual auto repair competition, which is held in all 50 states each spring, is designed to encourage talented young people to pursue careers as automotive service technicians. At stake for the high school students is more than $10 million in automotive scholarships and a chance to be named top technicians in their states and even the best in the country.
To qualify for the competition, the students had to take a written exam. Then the top students advanced to the hands-on portion of the challenge. In each state in April and May, contests were held as teams consisting of two students each raced to repair deliberately bugged Ford cars. The 10 faults in the vehicle included problems affecting the lights, fuses and the smooth performance of the engine. Students had to find and repair all of the faults to win, and scores were based on their time and accuracy.
In Arkansas, Francisco Echavarria and Nick Matthews of South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado were named state champs at the contest, which was held at the Mark Martin Museum in Batesville. Their instructor is Karsten Tidwell.
The top team in Louisiana’s contest, which was held in Alexandria, was composed of Casey Higginbotham and Mitchell Odom from Livingston Parish Literacy and Career Center in Walker, La. Their instructor is Van Guarino.
And Clinton High School students Chase Mitchell and Eric Vong continued the school’s winning tradition by taking first in the Mississippi contest, which was held in Jackson. Their instructor is Charlie Melton. Clinton High School has won the event for the last four years.
By winning the hands-on contest in their states, each student received his or her choice of scholarships from a number of technical institutes. Also, the winners received an all-expenses-paid trip to Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., to represent their states in the national championship, which was held in mid-June after press deadline for this issue.