Two students from Ramona High School beat a field of 38 other students to win the California 2010 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition on Friday. The competition, sponsored by Ford and the Automobile Club of Southern California, is designed to find the most talented young auto technicians in the United States.
The teams competed in the Southern California portion of the contest, held at the National Hot Rod Association Museum in Pomona on May 7. The Ramona team earned the state championship by achieving the highest score among the 10 two-student teams at the museum, as well as beating the score of 10 two-student teams that were competing simultaneously in Northern California.
The Golden State is the only state in the nation with two same-day competitions.
Ramona High students Brandon Grassilli, 17, and Brendon Mendenhall, 18, completed the Southern California hands-on competition in 23 minutes and 39 seconds, finding and repairing all 10 problems with the vehicle.
They each won four college scholarships, including a $20,000 scholarship to United Technical Institute, a $12,000 scholarship to Ohio Technical, and a two-year, $3,000 scholarship to one of 60 higher education schools participating in the Ford Motor Co.’s ASSET (Automotive Student Service Educational Training) program.
They also each won a University of Northwestern Ohio $5,000 scholarship.
The winning Ramona High School team instructor is Michael Saavedra.
The Ramona team also received a trophy for earning the highest score on the written portion of the qualifying exam in February.
“The car that Brandon and Brendan repaired today had zero demerits, meaning it was perfect,” said Rick Lalor, event competition chairman and the auto club’s motor sports manager. “The pair is from a high school with a long tradition of first-class teams who have competed on the national level and have demonstrated professional workmanship and high-tech knowledge needed to repair today’s vehicles. A perfect car is the goal, and that’s what Brandon and Brendan accomplished today.”
San Luis Obispo High’s team of Garrett Frice and Ben Sjogren, coached by Jeff Lehmkuhl, finished second in the Southern California competition, and a second Ramona High team of Ryan Smedly and Matt Tallman took third place. Their teacher is Robert Grace.
The competition winners were determined by the combination of an online qualifying exam and the team’s performance in a hands-on competition to repair quickly and accurately a deliberately disabled 2010 Mercury Milans.
As statewide champion, the Ramona High team advances to the national finals in Dearborn, Mich., next month, where $10 million in scholarships and prizes will be distributed.
The auto club co-sponsors the annual competition to draw attention to the need to attract qualified students to high-paying automotive professions. Mechanics with two-year degrees will be able earn a starting salary of $40,000 annually, with salary growth up to $100,000 or more for master certified technicians.
Trained automotive technicians are among the most sought-after and highly paid professionals in today’s job market, but many high schools are reducing or eliminating automotive programs due to lack of funding and/or trained teachers, noted Elaine Beno with the auto club.
In Ramona, when longtime auto teacher Michael Jordan retired last year, the school district did not replace him for budget reasons, leaving Ramona High’s auto program with three teachers. District Supt. Dr. Robert Graeff said this resulted in some increases in auto class size to accommodate students’ needs, but. he added, the district has no plans to further reduce its automotive program.