With Mark Iverson's announcement Wednesday morning of "Gentlemen, start your engines," the On Track Camaro competition between the Warren County Area Technology Center and Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College students moved to the performance phase.
The students' cars will compete in the Holley Performance Products LS Fest this weekend for the Holley General Motors Dominator Cup. Mitch Wright, executive director of the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, will pilot the cars through their paces during several events, including a serpentine course and a flat-out drag race strip.
The first-year On Track initiative of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce is designed to teach the students about STEM education science, technology, engineering and math and to encourage motorsports as a career choice.
About 500 students have been involved in On Track and each of the two main schools approached the Camaro rebuild a little differently. The cars were donated to the project by Holley. Participating were partners Western Kentucky University, SKYCTC, and the Bowling Green Independent and Warren County Public school districts at the WCATC.Iverson, chairman of the chamber, said baby boomers in the crowd in front of the Holley building at the motorsports park for the cars' unveiling could be forgiven for having a "little nostalgia" in looking at the green SKYCTC Camaro with the black racing stripe and the black WCATC Camaro with the red hood section. The roar of their engines filled the air following Iverson's command.
Chris Cumens, captain of the SKYCTC team, said the college students took a 1981 Camaro and turned it into a 1970 Camaro with a six-speed stick shift.
"I am blown away by what these students and faculty have been able to do," said SKYCTC President Phil Neal. "The purpose of the program is to highlight the technology of the cars," he said.
Automotive instructor Jeremy Stephens of SKYCTC said the challenge was to integrate the modern electronics with a motor from a 2010 Cadillac Escalade and a transmission from a second Cadillac. SKYCTC instructor John Hunt said the students learned the all steps it takes to rebuild a car. "It (On Track) helps with student recruitment," Hunt said. He said that many of the WCATC students, once they have obtained their high school diplomas this spring, could be students at the technical college."What I hope that they learned the most is to take pride in their work," Hunt said.
For college student Paul Browder of Bowling Green, the experience was rewarding.
"I learned things you don't learn in the normal college classroom this is way beyond school," the 37-year-old said.
The high school students' car was an "All American 1981 Camaro," with an automatic transmission, said WCATC Principal Eric Keeling.
"We are excited about this weekend and we are excited about winning the trophy," Keeling said to a round of laughter and smiles.Michael Amundson, 20, a 2015 Warren Central High School graduate now working at Martin KIA, said society needs auto mechanics and he advised younger students to take a look at a motorsports career.
"If you love what you are doing, stick with it," Amundson said.Dakota Montgomery, 18, also a 2015 WCHS graduate, said motor work is hands-on and fun.
"If they get involved in it, they are going to enjoy it and love it," Montgomery said.
The On Track program for 2016-17 moves into its second year this fall, bolstered by a $70,000 grant by the Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow program of Detroit, which emphasizes lightweight materials technology. The students will also work with lightweight metals manufacturing, a high-demand skill for manufacturers in the region.
As for this year's 2015-16 On Track class, Bowling Green Mayor Pro Tem Melinda Hill said what many in the audience at the NCM Motorsports Park were thinking "Both of you are winners!"
Dave Tatman, executive director of the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association, said the transformation of the cars in single year was "just incredible." He said a trip to Virginia by community leaders nearly three years ago to explore how a community links itself to a motorsports tradition has now resulted in a visible and exciting program in the community.
Even the T-shirts sported by the students showed originality. The SKYCTC shirts bore a replica of the famous "Rat Fink" Camaro drawings of 1970 motorsports lore while the high schoolers wore T-shirts that noted "If your class project wasn't building a Camaro, you went to the wrong high school."