Ford/AAA student competition to provide top techs scholarships

June 7, 2011
High school automotive technology students gather in Michigan for the 62nd annual National Finals.

One hundred high school automotive technology students from across the country will tune up cars in hopes of tuning out the competition at the National Finals of the 62nd annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition, which takes place June 12-14 at Ford World Headquarters in Michigan. The students will be vying for a share of nearly $12 million in scholarships and a job shadow experience with one of Roush Fenway Racing's NASCAR teams.

The competition, which is geared toward students looking to jumpstart their careers in the automotive industry, is especially relevant for today's struggling economy, as car owners are putting more money into repair and maintenance as a way of avoiding the big-ticket purchase of a new car. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that this trend, as well as advancements in automotive technology, means an increase in the demand for repair work and a rise in job opportunities for those automotive technicians who complete postsecondary education—something the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition helps its competitors pursue by offering millions of dollars in scholarships.

The annual competition features the top high school automotive technology students from all 50 states, with each state represented by a team of two students joined by their high school instructor. At the National Finals, the students will have their automotive skills and knowledge put to the test with a written exam and a timed event in which they will race against the clock and each other to identify glitches and repair deliberately installed "bugs" in identical 2011 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 trucks. The team with the best combined written and hands-on score will win the national championship.

In addition to the scholarships, the winning students will get the opportunity to spend a week job shadowing Roush Fenway Racing's NASCAR Nationwide Series No. 6 Ford team leading up to and during the Subway Jalapeno 250 on July 1 at Daytona International Speedway. Students also will have the opportunity to interact at-track with the car's driver and 2010 Nationwide Series Rookie of the year, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who is serving as the national spokesperson for the Ford/AAA Auto Skills program this year.

A pool of more than 10,000 automotive technology students started the journey to the National Finals by taking an online exam in March. The 100 national finalists, who have spent countless hours preparing for the competition, reached the championship through a high score in the online exam and success at the hands-on competitions at their respective State Finals. Though each team has proven it has the drive and automotive knowledge needed for success, the students come from a variety of backgrounds and have taken several different paths in pursuit of their dreams.  Some of the personal storylines include:

A strong support system helps Mississippi student beat the odds to compete

For team member Eric Vong of Clinton High School Career Complex in Clinton, Miss., just reaching the Mississippi State Finals was truly a win in itself. Vong, who suffers from a rare blood disorder, was unsure if he would be able to compete at all, but through the support of his instructor and his teammate, he made it to the state championship. Teammate Chase Mitchell also had his own strong support system in stepfather Razi, an immigrant and automotive shop owner, who plans to pass down the shop to his son.

A little ingenuity, and even less sleep, propelled Tucson school to the National Finals

Winning the Arizona State Finals was truly a milestone for Flowing Wells High School, which has never captured the title before. Unable to secure a Ford Mustang on which to practice, the team jumped at the chance to learn the ins and outs once they arrived at the State Finals. Staying up until 1:00 a.m., the boys used the few tools available to take apart the display car and gain additional hands-on knowledge of its inner workings. Fortunately, this commitment paid off and they were able to drive home the victory.

Florida students are looking for a championship title at the National Finals

2011 is the first year Merritt Island High School has nabbed the title of Florida State Champions. Team member Sam McLean, who had open heart surgery as a baby and today wears a pacemaker, described the state finals as his "Super Bowl." Sam, along with teammate Johnny White III, is looking forward to the National Finals in Michigan, which will mark the first time either student has flown in a plane—something of an irony, considering both boys have parents that work in the space industry at Cape Canaveral. It will be an exciting set of firsts for the entire team.

The Georgia team has heritage on its side

The team from Thomson High School in Thomson, Ga., has a rich history with the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition and the automotive industry. Instructor Jason Brooks was a student competitor in the 1998 competition; his team came in fifth place at the National Finals. Additionally, his students, Chevy Phillips and Dakota Aldred, grew up in the industry, as both their fathers are automotive technicians. This experience and background knowledge will likely serve them well at this year's National Finals.

In Missouri, competing in the National Finals is a father-son legacy

It's all in the family for Dwight Nieboff and Brenten McManis from Lamar Area Vocational Technical School in Lamar, Mo. Both students' fathers were Auto Skills Missouri State champions when they were in high school—and McManis' father even placed in the top ten at the national championship. Nieboff and McManis had some great role models, but they also have some big shoes to fill.

For information on competing in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills, visit

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