JDHS seniors win spot in national auto skills competition

Josh Smith, Carson Paul win first place Saturday in Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2009

Put simply, Juneau-Douglas High School seniors Josh Smith and Carson Paul enjoy Steve Squires' automotive class because of the hands-on experience - and the greasier the better.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"We get down and dirty," Paul said.

"It's exciting and fun," Smith agreed. "And you get to learn and work on your own vehicle."

After taking first place in the annual statewide Student Auto Skills competition, held Saturday at the University of Alaska Anchorage, they have more to look forward to than fixing their cars. The feat qualified them for the national competition to be held June 14 to 16 in Dearborn, Mich.

"It's just great. I'm really proud of them," Squires said Saturday after the competition.

The JDHS team was one of only two cars to make it out of the shop perfectly, Squires said. Second place on Saturday went to Ketchikan High School.

"It's nice that Southeast got to rip along with the rest of them," Squires said.

Sponsored by Ford and AAA, the hands-on competition is held annually in Anchorage. To qualify, Smith and Paul scored highest out of eight Juneau students who took a written test in February. Then they were asked to study a red Ford Focus, which was donated by Skinner Sales and Service.

"It's a Ford every year obviously, since it's sponsored by Ford," Squires said Thursday. "They've been studying this car for a couple weeks now."

In Saturday's competition, pairs from six Alaska high schools had an hour and a half to fix the faults in their Fords.

"They'll be a dozen things wrong with it," Squires explained of the competition. "Some of them will be simple, like broken light bulbs they just need to find and replace, and some are more complex, like a mass airflow sensor or something like that will be out of parameter."

The "perfect" car with the fastest time wins, and students get demerits for any missed or unfixed problems. If no cars are perfect, it'll come down to who has the fewest demerits.

"It's all about quality first, then about doing it efficiently," Squires said. "If you have a car that goes out (of the shop) in 20 minutes, and it has one thing wrong with it, and it takes the other team behind them the entire hour and a half, but they have a perfect car, they win."

Once they're done, students take the car on a test drive, and a certified technician examines it for any unfixed problems.

Competition at nationals is similar to the state level; students take a 100-question written exam, and they must fix another set of bugs.

Last time JDHS qualified for nationals was 2005. JDHS has qualified twice previously since Squires started teaching more than eight years ago.

"Winners get thousands of dollars in scholarships," Squires said from experience. "If they happen to win, they'll get their first crack at scholarships at UAA, Universal Technical Institute, the vocational program in Seward, just several different colleges."

Squires said there are even more scholarships and prizes involved in the national competition. In addition to winning scholarship opportunities Saturday, Smith and Paul won a set of Snap-On tools.

Aside from the prizes, Squires sees other values in the competitions.

"There's such a shortage of automotive technicians right now that they're really trying to entice quality kids take this as a career," Squires said. "So this is always the highlight of the year, this contest. It's a great incentive just for the kids to take the written test and see who scores the highest. It's kind of a big deal."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.

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