High school auto whizzes ace state repair contest

Duo will travel to Washington, D.C., for national contest

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

A tennis ball in the air intake didn't faze two Juneau-Douglas High School seniors who recently won a statewide automotive repair competition by a wide margin.

Nathaniel Abbott, 17, and Jesse Walker, 18, had 25 years of experience behind them at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills contest in Anchorage earlier this month. That experience came from Bill Brandner, the longtime JDHS automotive teacher who retired last year.

Mr. B, as he's called, helped prepare the students for the contest, which involves quickly finding and fixing about 10 problems on a Ford car.

``Mr. B is big at putting a ball in the air intake to prevent the engine from getting air,'' Abbott said. ``We never would have expected it at `state,' but we looked anyway.''

Brandner, who knows how to fix cars, also knows how to ``bug'' them for a good cause. To prepare students for these contests, he does things like cut a hole in a hose, take out a spark plug and replace it with a similar one that doesn't work, and put plastic film over an air filter.

All the contestants work on the same kind of car, in this case a Taurus with a three-liter, two-valve engine. Local Ford dealerships loaned the two-person student teams a Taurus to practice on for two weeks before the contest.

Both Walker and Abbott have taken three years of auto shop classes, but they still needed to pore over the Ford manuals and learn how to use computer diagnostic equipment.

``The class pretty much gives you a basic knowledge of how engines work,'' Walker said. ``In order to do that kind of thing (in the contest), you have to get into stuff the class doesn't cover.''

The students also had to learn to keep looking for problems.

``What they want you to do is check the whole system when you find a problem,'' Brandner said. ``It's aimed at doing quality work the first time around.''

In the contest, the Juneau students had the car ready in 42 minutes, about 20 minutes ahead of the next team. They fixed all the defects and didn't get any demerits, such as for leaving something out of place, Brandner said.

Prior to the hands-on contest, up to eight seniors per school took a 50-question written test. The two highest scoring students from each of the seven participating schools went to Anchorage, where their test scores also counted in the final tally.

Abbott and Walker won tools and ``a big ol' trophy,'' Walker said, plus scholarship offers from a variety of technical schools, including full tuition at Ford's two-year program at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

They also will go on to the national contest in Washington, D.C., on June 17-19.

Walker, who was thinking about becoming an electrician, is up in the air now that he has the scholarship offers. Abbott, who is a cadet volunteer firefighter at Auke Bay, was interested in studying fire science.

``It's kind of thrown a wrench in my system, because I don't know what I want to do anymore,'' he said.

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