Evan J. Smith
Freelancer
June 11, 2015

For decades, students have competed in automotive skills competitions and recently, students from all across America converged in Dearborn, Michigan to battle for the national championship and be named the winners of the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals at Ford World Headquarters. Morgan White and Jay Saunders from Vale High School in Vale, Oregon, outlasted 98 fellow students and registered the top score under the tutelage of instructor Drew Barnes.

The students competed for over $12 million dollars in scholarship prizes, and each state’s winners had to solve “real world” automotive challenges – both digital and mechanical – in a timed competition. Finding success in the competition requires the ability to diagnosis problems quickly. New cars are chock full of innovative technologies, so contestants in the 2015 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition are challenged to handle more than nuts and bolts.

“The 2015 winning team from Oregon represents a long-running family tradition of participation in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition. Jay Saunders, is one of five Saunders’ sons to participate in the program, including two of his brothers who were also crowned national champions in 1992 and 2011. Morgan White’s father, Randy Benlap, was the second member of the 1992 national championship team. The instructor from Vale High School, Drew Barnes, is creating a legacy of his own capturing his second national title in just his 3rd appearance,” stated our source at Ford.

The events began with a shotgun start, then the student competitors (all paired in two-person teams) raced to their identical 2015 Ford Mustang Fastbacks to review a work order that challenged them to diagnose and repair a number of purposefully placed “bugs.” These issues can range from digital to mechanical and electrical problems. Once the repairs were completed, it was a race to shut the hood, fire up the engine and steer the vehicle across the finish line – where a scrutinizing judging team waited.

White and Saunders earned a “perfect car” score by flawlessly repairing all the “bugs” without any demerits. Students are graded on quality repair workmanship and safety. Combined with the results of a written examination taken on June 8, their score allowed them to hoist the trophy as national champions.

In addition to a healthy scholarship, the national champion team will enjoy a weeklong job shadow experience with auto racing royalty, Wood Brothers Racing’s legendary No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team and driver Ryan Blaney. The experience will take place at the Wood Brothers Racing shop in Harrisburg, N.C. and also trackside in Daytona as the Team prepares the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion car for the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola in early July.

“The commitment necessary to make it to the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals was evident as I spoke with many of the students and instructors,” said driver Ryan Blaney. “Our team is extremely excited to host the Oregon team and show them behind-the-scenes at a race shop and then be part of our team in Daytona. It’s going to be a great experience for them to witness first-hand the adjustments that are made to a race car during an actual race.”

“For today’s automotive technicians, being able to diagnose and repair a computer-related malfunction is just as critical as fixing mechanical failures,” said Margaret Pittelkow, AAA Vice President, Automotive. “As a generation that has grown up with digital technology, these students are uniquely qualified to lead the auto industry forward and you saw their brilliance on display today in a high-octane atmosphere matching the nation’s best talent from coast-to-coast.”

“The automotive technicians of tomorrow must be well-educated and highly-skilled to meet the current and future technological advances in automotive technology," said Steve DeAngelis, Ford’s Manager of Technical Support Operations. “The people at Ford are committed to training and retaining the best technicians in the industry, which is why we are so proud of our involvement in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition.”