Northern California Ford AAA Student Auto Skills

The 2009 Ford AAA Student Auto Skills competition is over.  The team from Castro Valley High, led by instructor Larry Weiss, won the Northern California contest.  A team of high school students from San Luis Obispo won the overall state championship and will go to the Nationals in Dearborn.  My story is not about the overall winner but about the Northern California contest. (California is the only state where two contests are held simultaneously).

Every year since 1991 I have volunteered for the contest.  In 1991 it was still the Chrysler AAA Trouble Shooting Contest and I was one of about a half dozen guys from the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) who volunteered.  Over the years Chrysler dropped out, replaced by Ford, and the BAR stopped covering the costs for their employees.  I kept at it because; well because you have to give back now and then.

The contest is a hoot.  Two-person teams of high school students try to fix identically disabled cars in 90 minutes.  Some of the "bugs" are downright diabolical and it is impressive to watch these 16 or 17 year olds hustle to fix their cars.  When they are done, assuming they get the car to final judging, the cars are inspected not only for completeness of repair but neatness.  Leaving a clip undone will result in a demerit.  A finishing time of 89 minutes with zero demerits will beat a time of 5 minutes with one demerit.

This year the selection of schools was slim - only eight schools participated.  The schools were 49er ROP Nevada Union High, Campolindo High, Castro Valley High, 2 teams from Lassen Tech Institute, Marin Oaks High, Reedley High, and Tri Valley ROP.  In years past there have been up to 20 schools.  The economy has taken its toll.

I have to give kudos to the sponsors of the competition.  Ford's financial troubles are well known even though they are the only domestic auto maker that has not taken money from the Feds.  The AAA of Northern California, Nevada & Utah, like most companies, is feeling the pinch.  Yet they did not cry "uncle," they ponied up the money to keep the competition going.

Likewise, Hertz Corporation was there with the cars and two welcome volunteers.  The wonderful Blackhawk Automotive Museum made the museum available for lunch and dinner, both of which were excellent.  Rounding out the sponsors was the California Department of Education, and if you live in California you know what shape the state is in.

The Ford AAA Student Auto Skills contest is a worthwhile event, something that gets far too little attention from the media - automotive and otherwise.  I had hopes that the economic downturn would help turn young men and women towards the automotive repair industry where they can earn very good money and get into an industry that is ever changing.  It doesn't look that way, and it doesn't look like there is any real push to bring back "industrial arts" to our high schools.  It is a crying shame.


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