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Getting on track

Man speaking at posium

Photo by Miranda Peterson - Daily News
Dave Tatman, associate vice president for Advanced Manufacturing at the Western Kentucky University Center for Research and Development, speaks Wednesday, May 27, 2015, at the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber announced the launch of the On Track motorsports education initiative in partnership with the Warren County Area Technology Center, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College and Holley Performance Products. (Miranda Pederson/photo@bgdailynews.com)

By CHARLES A. MASON cmason@bgdailynews.com bgdailynews.com

Local leaders want students on track to a possible local motor sports career.

Hands-on learning can be much more influential than book learning, said Bill Tichenor, director of marketing at Holley Performance Products.

To spark that learning, officials want kids under the hoods of street-legal race cars, rebuilding those cars from scratch.

A new educational initiative launched by the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce has several partners. The details were outlined during a news conference at the chamber s office Wednesday.

Two late-model Chevrolet Camaros will become motor sports laboratories in the 2015-16 school year under the new On Track program.

The educational initiative will use STEM disciplines science, technology, engineering, and math.

The Warren County Area Technology Center, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College and Holley Performance Products partnered with the Bowling Green Economic Development Authority on the plan. College-level students at SKYCTC and high school students at the tech center will work on the 1980-vintage Camaros to completely rebuild the two cars. Tichenor said the cars were used in Holley s LS Fest.

I m pretty excited, said Christian Flores of Bowling Green, a second-year student at SKYCTC majoring in collision repair technology. We re rebuilding a part of history.

Tech center instructor Michael Emberton said it just might be the spark needed to get students interested.

You try to get math before kids, but they get bored, Emberton said. Put a race car in front of the students, now math isn t boring.

Speakers talking about the initiative said On Track will bring together several segments of the Bowling Green, Warren County and southcentral Kentucky communities.

It is to partner the rich motor-sports heritage with education, said Tommy Adams, chamber chairman, adding that On Track is a crucial piece to develop talent to help fill an anticipated 4,500 job openings in 2016 in manufacturing.

Future workforce needs were documented in the chamber s 2013 Urgent Call to Action in Support of Manufacturing study, which also noted that jobs needed to be filled in southcentral Kentucky will swell to 9,000 by 2020.

In August 2013, Maureen Carpenter, the chamber s vice president of regional economic development and talent, spoke at the Barren River Area P-16 Council meeting in Scottsville and detailed the Urgent Call to Action in Support of Manufacturing study, which was released in July 2013 by Audrey S. Theis.

Theis, president of Key Links, served as a consultant for the chamber and looked at the region s workforcemen applaud in crowd picture for six months.

On Track is intended to raise the profile of motor-sports education in southcentral Kentucky, said Dave Tatman, associate vice president of advanced manufacturing at the Western Kentucky University Center for Research and Development. Tatman is a former plant manager at the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant.

This one thing won t solve the problem of the jobs need, but this is part of the plan, Tatman said.

Tatman said we already have national eyes on this program.

As a representative of WKU, we could not be more delighted to enter into a partnership to advance the cause of the STEM disciplines, he said.

The WKU connection includes support from the Ogden College of Science and Engineering, the Gordon Ford College of Business and the Center for Gifted Studies.

I have a passion for motor sports, said Chris Cumens, vice president for finance and administration at SKYCTC. It is cool to build a car with someone else s money.

Tech center Principal Eric Keeling said a student can take a sheet of metal and lay it out, and that s one education. But when you get a car whoa!

The initiative will build on academic performance already turned in by students at the tech center.

This car allows us to take this to the next level, Keeling said.

Adams said the On Track initiative follows the successful implementation of The Leader in Me in Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District under a $1.4 million fundraising program by the chamber. The Leader in Me is based on Stephen Covey s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

This ties education to the workforce, Cumens said.

Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon thanked the chamber for its vision. This will make a difference in the lives of our young people and of our community, he said.

Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said the On Track program is the next step after The Leader in Me. And what a fun step this is going to be, Wilkerson said.

The progress the students make on the cars will be outlined on social media and in public appearances, officials said.

Follow business reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter at twitter.com/BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.