Hot Rodders of Tomorrow

Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Build Opportunity for Young Enthusiasts

Story Larry Jewett - Images Hot Rodders of Tomorrow - June 19, 2011 09:00 AM


1 In 2011 Division 2 competition, students from Morristown West High School (Morristown, Tennessee) go to work.


2 Joliet Central High School Team #1 steps up the pace, finishing the job in a little over 37 minutes during Division 3 action. Their schoolmates, Team Fel-Pro, watch from the audience.


3 Nature’s notebook. Torque specs on the arm are just one of the ways to simplify the process. Yes, even seasoned builders can learn a few things from today’s students. Just don’t try it in a classroom. They think it’s cheating.


4 With the air cleaner being returned to the bench, three students from Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois, keep working against the clock.


5 One member of the five-person team stays back at the bench to do whatever is necessary, away from the engine block.


6 The eventual Division 3 champions, Team Fel-Pro from Joliet Central High School, put together a perfect score and earned a time bonus that proved to be very beneficial.


7 The South Elgin (Illinois) High School team looks over the engine, thinking strategy.


8 Engine builder shouldn’t be a solitary process. Teamwork opens up plenty of opportunity to learn and do.


9 The Sequoyah High School (Soddy Daisy, Tennessee) squad stands by with gloves and safety glasses on, ready to go to work in Division 2 action.


10 There are trophies for the top three finishers in the region. The winning team goes on to the finals in Las Vegas.

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The news programs are full of gloomy information when it comes to technical education. You hear of budget cuts and the effects they will have on extracurricular activities and “non-traditional” education. Programs like Driver’s Ed have long ago been eliminated from many schools.

In our own local school district, a class in gasoline engines was cancelled because the school couldn’t find a qualified instructor. Only after a local mechanic stepped up to help did the program get spared, but it was a temporary reprieve. The classes are no longer offered.

It’s easy to take this information, along with the dire state reported in the media, and say the sky is falling. There are, however, commitments to keeping the programs strong and making the world realize the value that automotive studies can bring.

In 2008, organizers of the Race & Performance Expo put together the first “Hot Rodders of Tomorrow” competition. The idea took the standard engine-building competition that utilized team players and parlayed it to younger, high school age builders. In less than three years, that idea has become a national phenomenon which has sparked interest from students to parts manufacturers to trade organizations and beyond. In that scenario, everyone has benefitted.

“We started out by word of mouth,” said Jim Bingham of Winner’s Circle Speed & Custom. “Once we got the interest of SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association), it really took off.”

From the first exhibition, the idea sprang into national competition by way of regional rounds. Currently, there are five active regions with the prospect of two more to represent the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

In 2010, the five winners of their respective divisions and a wild card team (a team that had the best time in regional competition without winning the division) gathered for the “Showdown at SEMA,” the stage set to crown a national champion.

In 2009, the first year for the competition, the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow were relegated to a spot deep in the confines of Central Hall. In 2010, SEMA organizers moved the competition to a main area between Central and North Hall, putting it in a place where literally everyone had to pass at some point. Talk about getting attention.

The competition requires a team of five students to tear down and rebuild a 350 Chevy engine that is “dressed out” with a four barrel carburetor, chrome air cleaner, valve covers, aluminum manifold, headers and high-performance ignition components.

“This is the most common engine,” explained Bingham. “It gives the teams a chance to get a cheap practice motor before the competition, because there are so many of them available.”

Each of the teams in regional competition is sponsored by a company involved in the automotive world. One of those companies is PRW, who specializes in engine components. Jamie Adkins of the PRW sales department explained why companies are anxious to get involved.

“This program keeps young blood in the hobby,” he said. “Not everyone can be a superstar athlete. This gives them a competition in which they can excel.

“If you look around the industry, a person in their mid-30s is considered young. If we can get high school age students involved and interested, we’re helping our future. If just 10 percent stay in the industry, it will grow. There are opportunities available for WDs (wholesale distributors), manufacturers, corporations and more.”

The teams get sponsors through random draws. Sponsors then provide shirts for the teams in addition to promotional banners and material for the site of the competition. “It’s a great promotional piece for us,” Adkins said. “You always like to have a ‘feel good’ type of activity, and it’s nice to see kids who will stay in the hobby.”

Each team is accompanied by an instructor who has been working with the students at the school. “We have heard many times from these instructors about how a kid signed up for an auto class because they had to do something. They may not have even been interested in it, but they needed to have a class. Pretty soon, that kid hears about this competition, and it becomes a place where they can shine. They start getting more involved. Their confidence is really built up by the competition, then they get a sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose.”

Bingham cites another benefit to the student. “They learn to work together and see the importance of that. The truth is, we live in a ‘we’ world, not an ‘I’ world.”

In the actual competition, the team of five remains behind their “bench” – a table designed to hold the parts – and moves to the engine on the stand at a signal. This is a timed competition, but accuracy is important as well. There are penalties for steps skipped, bolts not tightened and other infractions. It teaches “doing it right the first time.”

The teardown and rebuild are done under the watchful eyes of several judges who carefully observe from the perimeter. Students are required to take parts to the bench, which usually has one team member in place while the other four are turning wrenches. These observers are stationed so that every spot is watched, and you can’t hide anything from the observers.

If it wasn’t enough pressure to do this work under the eyes of the observer and the threat of the clock, it is also a competition where spectators are encouraged. Like any activity where schools compete, expect a crowd – and the crowd can sometimes really get behind its team.

With the pressure of observers and the time clock, finalists at the 2010 event found a little more to up the ante. The School of Automotive Machinists, University of Northwestern Ohio and Ohio Technical College were offering scholarship money. Just making the finals meant each participating student had a shot to pursue a higher education. The offer was $10,000 to each first place team member, $8,500 to each second place team member, and $7,000 to each third place team member. For the team that finished fourth, there was $6,000 per student on the line with fifth place being offered $5,000 per team member and the sixth place squad getting $4,000 per team member.

A new playoff format was used in 2010 with great success. The six teams competed daily from Tuesday through Thursday. The three times were averaged with the winner selected as the team with the best average time.

The 2010 winner was Loara High School in Anaheim, California, and was sponsored by Auto Meter. The Loara team averaged 31 minutes in their work, proving that a second chance can be a great opportunity. The team was the wild card addition to the field, losing the regional action to North Orange County ROP.

For 2011, the regional competition began in February and will continue. Once again, each regional winner will find a trip to the SEMA show in Las Vegas as an incentive.

In Division 2, one of the teams from East Ridge High School (East Ridge, Tennessee) beat out seven others for the title, making them a repeat winner. The team was sponsored by ARP.

In Division 3, Joliet Central High School’s team number two (of two) put together a perfect score, earning a bonus of two minutes removed from their time, courtesy of Fel-Pro. That bonus catapulted them past the school’s other squad and gave them a win by less than 45 seconds.

The final regional competition will be held in late June at Carlisle Fairgrounds during the 2011 GM Nationals.

Any student involved in the program will be quick to tell you how important this competition can be. Dozens of manufacturers have come aboard to help in whatever way possible. The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow is 100 percent volunteer with dedicated professionals giving their time and service. It sets a great example for the younger generation to see how important the automotive hobby can be.

All of the youth of today aren’t looking for a handout, but a hand, a helping hand to give them that opportunity to take their skills to the next level. With the continued efforts of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow and all of the supporting companies and businesses, that help is real. It will benefit something so dear to our hearts as the caretakers in the next generation keep the torch burning.

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