By Bill Tamburrino
They are off and winning. The Ramona High School Auto Dawgs have started off their competition schedule with an exacta.
The Auto Dawgs took first and second place at the National Hot Rod Association’s U.S. Army High School Automotive Challenge presented by Universal
Technical Institute at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The preliminary competition took place on Nov. 5 at UTI in Rancho Cucamonga.
Twenty-two schools entered the competition. The pre-lims consisted of written tests and hands-on tasks.
The semifinals were held on Nov. 9 at the Auto Club Raceway. The top eight teams that achieved the highest combined scores had to take a written exam to advance to the next level.
The Elite Eight was reduced to the Final Four competition, which consisted of a hands-on challenge focusing on using electrical equipment and schematic reading abilities. The two teams with the fastest times in solving the electrical challenge advanced to the final round of two.
“I told both of our teams before the competition that it would be cool if both of our teams made it to the finals,” said co-adviser Mike Saavedra. “I told them that they had the skills and knowledge to do so, and they did it.”
Two teams from the same school have only made it to the finals once before. That school was Ramona High School.
The final round tested the teams’ ability to work as a team on an engine and its components. The teams had to work on a T-Bucket and repair a distributer, dead time the engine, install the exhaust system and get the car running.
The team that took first — Dustin Ballantyne, Dylan Ballantyne, Andrew Hankins and Tyler Pavlick — each received a $750 U.S. Savings Bond. The second place team — Randi McQuien, Justin Sebenius, Troy Burdett-Connelly and Ryan Greenwell — all received a $500 Savings Bond.
“We practiced together and when both teams made it to the finals I was ecstatic,” said co-adviser. Robert Grace. “The teams worked nights and on the weekends. We were the two best teams in the competition and it is a state wide competition,” stated co-advisor Robert Grace.
“We got a lot of community support and help. Two grads, Chris Smith and Brandon Grassilli, who both have won the competition, came back and helped us prepare, and Mike Jordan (retired RHS automotives teacher) put in a lot of hours helping. Ramona grads and this community takes pride in our automotives program,” said Saavedra.
“Winning was great, but our program is really about getting students excited about automotives and setting goals,” continued Saavedra. “They have to have dreams and goals. If we can get kids to maintain their grades in other classes so that they can compete, then we are really winners. If we can prepare our students for jobs in these tough times then we are doing the right thing.”
Saavedra and Grace are volunteer advisers and raise money for expenses connected to the competitions.
The Auto Dawgs compete from October to July and their goal every year is to win the Skills USA Nationals in Kansas City and the Ford Motor’s Nationals in Dearborn, Michigan.
They are off to a great start.