Nineteen minutes. It didn’t take a six-member team of high schoolers much longer to strip and then reassemble an engine during a recent contest at Universal Technical Institute in Pennsylvania. The Burton Center for Arts and Technology team from Salem, Virginia, completed the task in 19 minutes and 38 seconds, to be exact.
Dubbed “Team COMP Cams,” the students posted the fastest time during the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge held April 23 and now are preparing for national dual championship playoffs this fall. They will compete in December during the Performance Racing Industry show in Indianapolis, instead of the alternative playoff at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association show in Las Vegas a month earlier.
Chris Overfelt, the team’s welding and motorsports technology instructor at BCAT, said they began prepping for the qualifier at UTI a few weeks before and have since continued after-school practices in hopes of improving their time.
BCAT’s 2014 Engine Challenge team set a single-round national record time of 16 minutes, 22 seconds and posted an average time of 18:6 to win the national championship. Two members — Jacob Hurley and Zach Duncan — from that winning team have returned this year. Also returning are Tyler Prosperi and Thomas Henderlite, both who helped lead last year’s team to a third-place national finish with an average time of 19:44. Additional 2016 team members include Nick Karnes and Jimmy Snider.
“It’s a lot of work to stay on top of the heap,” Overfelt says of the team’s past performances and continuing investment by students, school staff and sponsors.
During the Engine Challenge, team members must work simultaneously on their designated parts of the engine, very close to each other and using only hand tools. They have to be quick but precise, not dropping components or bumping those components or tools together. All adjustments and measurements are also checked. Each mistake can result in seconds or minutes lost. Practice is crucial.
“There’s so much going on, so fast,” Overfelt says.
He says he is proud of the BCAT team for its performance at UTI and has confidence in-class training along with the after-school practices will have the students ready to take the national stage in December.
Students in BCAT’s motorsports technology program, part of the Roanoke Public School Governor’s STEM Academy, learn welding, race car and chassis fabrication, and how to run lines for brake and electrical systems, among other skills needed to prepare them for a career in the motorsports industry.
“Everything we have here is built by the kids,” Overfelt says, referencing student-welded shelves and stands, as well as vehicles.
The program’s current car build projects include a 1938 Buick, 1964 Riviera and 1969 Gran Torino, as a tribute to NASCAR legend Wendell Scott’s Grand National ride in the early ’70s. Experience on such projects, coupled with participation in the Engine Challenge, has served students well.
“Four out of the six students on our 2012 team now work in the [automotive] industry,” Overfelt says.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars serve as further evidence of the Engine Challenge’s effect on students. Last year, when BCAT’s team finished third in the nation, each member received $9,000 in scholarships to trade and technical schools — that’s $180,000 altogether. The collective scholarship total for the 2014 championship team from BCAT was more than $350,000.
“It would be a dream if we won,” says first-year team member Nick Karnes. “That would help me pursue my goal of being a welder by winning scholarships to college.”
There are currently 34 other teams qualified for national Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge competition at the SEMA and PRI shows. Additional teams could join the list, as more qualifying events are scheduled through July.
Overfelt says it’s possible Team COMP Cams from BCAT will participate in the July event in Joliet, Illinois, to get in some performance-under-pressure practice.
Team COMP Cams did participate in the 11th Annual NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl in Joilet, placing second with a time of 22 minutes. That time advanced them to the NMRA vs. NMCA Grudge Match that followed, and they bested Team Speed Pro by 5 seconds to win the plaque. The team still plans to compete in the Hot Rodders of Tommorow Engine Builder Challenge championship at PRI Show in December.