Ryan and Joey, both seniors, qualified for the state “hands-on” competition by taking a written knowledge test last February. Ten teams from Northern California and ten teams from Southern California qualify for the state test. The two boys, along with Automotive Technology Teacher Brian Wheeler, had about six weeks to prepare for the competition, held at the Blackhawk Auto Museum in Danville on May 3.
During the competition, each of the ten teams was given a faulty new Ford vehicle and an hour and a half to diagnose the car and repair it. The issues varied, but many of the problems were electrical. Each team had the same basic tools and a “hood closing time,” which meant as soon as their car was repaired, they closed the hood and judges recorded the time. The cars did not get judged if they couldn’t make it across the finish line. “This was a startling year (because) there were only two teams that got their hoods closed and made it across the finish line; ours was the first,” said Wheeler.
Northern California competes with Southern California simultaneously, and although a Southern California high school has come away victorious the past few years and moved on to the nationwide finals in Dearborn, Michigan, it is Alhambra High School that has been the Northern California winner for the past two years.
Exner and Geoffrey each received $30,000 scholarships to the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Sacramento to further their automotive education. They will also have opportunities to go to some Ford trainings. The winners from last year’s competition are currently training at UTI. “There is so much in this for the kids. I told the guys who are up at UTI right now, ‘you’re going to go to college; it’s good you’re doing this and you can do whatever you want with your automotive career if you have a degree—make college your second stop,’” said Wheeler.
Wheeler has 130 automotive students each year, including three classes of freshman. “My goal is not just to get them through here and not just to have them work on cars, but to have careers. The electronics’ guys always do better than everybody else -- the guys who can diagnose the complex problems and fix them. I have great kids to work with and it’s a real privilege working here,” continued Wheeler.
In case you were wondering, Wheeler has 24 young women taking his classes, evenly spaced from 9th through 12th grade. This is his fourth year teaching at Alhambra High School. He spent 30 years in the automotive repair industry.
The Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition offers millions in scholarships each year to the best young automotive technicians competing at both the state and national level.