Juneau students race to fix car in D.C. contest

Posted: Monday, June 19, 2000

WASHINGTON -- A problem with the mass air flow sensor tripped up two Juneau men Monday as they competed in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition.

Jesse Walker and Nathaniel Abbott placed 28th out of 51 entries in the national competition, held under cloudy skies near the Lincoln Memorial. Walker and Abbott, both 18, graduated this month from Juneau-Douglas High School.

Despite the problem with the air flow device, Walker and Abbott closed their hood and headed for the finish line. But the engine kept stalling, so they were forced to retreat and spend several more minutes analyzing the problem.

''We did decent,'' Walker said after the contest. ''We did about as well as we expected. We just decided to say 'to heck with it,' and cross the finish line, but the car had other ideas.''

Eventually they realized they needed to remove the entire tube that the air flow device was mounted on. The device helps to circulate air.

In the competition, identical new Ford Motor Company cars are uniformly ''bugged.'' Each two-person team must diagnose the problem and make repairs in the lowest time period. A written test also counts toward the overall score.

Competitors win scholarships to automotive technology schools.

Walker and Abbott registered a total time of slightly more than 106 minutes.


Jessie Walker

They breezed through such problems as missing relays, blown fuses and resetting the car's idling speed. But overall, the Juneau men found the competition much tougher than the state contest, which they aced last month.

''This was much tougher,'' said Abbott. ''There were a lot more tricks.''

''I just wanted to do the best we could do and get through to the finish,'' he added.

Walker and Abbott were accompanied by their teacher, Bill Brandner, who came out of retirement to coach the budding mechanics. Brandner was a longtime JDHS automotive teacher.

''I feel good,'' Brandner said. ''I'm disappointed they had to start over again, but I would rather have a perfect car.''

Brandner has brought seven teams to the national competition in the last 23 years. The JDHS program combines hands-on experience with classroom teaching, he said.

Walker's success in the auto repair contests has spurred him to reconsider his plan to become an electrician.

''I'm undecided,'' he said about his future.

But Abbott intends to enroll in the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in August, studying fire science. He hopes to parlay his associate's degree into a job with the Auke Bay Fire Department.

While in Washington, Abbott and Walker toured the city's monuments and visited the National Air and Space Museum. They return to Juneau Tuesday.

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