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Staying in School

Learning the Fun Stuff

Tony Kelly Dec 31, 2004

If you're lucky you get a job doing what you like to do on your day off. For many of us, being involved with cars is that kind of deal. Some of it is luck, some of it comes after years of hard work and training, but all of it depends on being prepared. For young people who stay in high school but really don't look forward to staying in school after that to learn M.O.S. (more of the same), there are some great technical and vocational schools in this country who are filling a need. One such school is Automotive Training Center (ATC) in Exton, Pennsylvania. The staff invited us to take part in their high school senior open house day while we were heading to the Maple Grove, Pennsylvania, Super Chevy Show. We only wish we could have gone there a few decades earlier, for a lot longer visit (like 2 years). Of the hundreds of students attending classes at ATC every year, approximately 98 percent of them walk out to a waiting job for them in the auto industry. Major manufacturers recruit at the school, and are often on campus with technical information. ATC is used by our colleagues at Popular Hot Rodding magazine as an engine dyno location for East coast entrants in the famous Engine Masters Championship. We made our stop at ATC part of our 2003 SUPER CHEVY Road Tour with Project X. This is the second school venue we have been privileged to attend, the first being our local Valencia High School at the beginning of the season. Our enjoyment of the interest and knowledgeable questions from the students is more than enough reward for us but we are also encouraged to see that young men and women are choosing to be a part of the automotive industry.

Adding to the fun at the open house was the presence of Nitro Coupe racer, Jim Nordhoughen, his wife, Sue, and their team. Jet Car driver, Ken Hall, brought Al Hanna's jet funny car out as well. Nordhoughen fired up the Nitro Coupe for the students but we couldn't convince Hall to wind up the jet. Nearby office workers were thankful. The young people got a chance to get a very close look at the racers, as well as Project X and we had a chance to meet some of the nicest and hardest working students and staff in the country. From what we saw at ATC, the future looks bright for them and for the rest of us who will come to depend on them.


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There goes the neighborhood. Jim Nordhougen not only rolled out his awesome Nitro Coupe, he fired it up several times during the day. The students loved and we have an idea the folks in the surrounding businesses did too, they just hide their feelings well.

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Whatever has wheels and power draws the students.

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They also seemed to know that the only bad question is the one not asked, so they fired them at us all day.

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In case you are still hauling out repair manuals from the bookshelf, be advised that everything you need is now on a computer somewhere, and the students at ATC know how to find it.

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Getting the rear in gear. By the time a student works his or her way through this variety of devices, they can be trusted to fix what ails the average car.

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Over in the engine room there's powerplants ranging from "old reliable" straight sixes to modern fuel-injected, overhead cam versions.

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What a toy shop!

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ATC even has a section to educate technicians on outboard motors.

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Whether a student wants to do that for a living or just go fishing, it's nice to know there's a place to learn all about them.

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These kids were all over Project X. They might not have known its history but they loved it for what it is now.

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At speed through the chicane--a just-built radio controlled car contends for the honors under the guidance of its builder.

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These students took the cars from a box of parts in the morning to fully operational just after lunch. Sound like a great bunch of pit crew members here.

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Here's where the story gets told. This engine dyno room is one of the locations used for Popular Hot Rodding's Engine Master series where builders from all over the country compete for some major cash and fame.

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Ken Hall brought the Hanna Motorsports Top Secret Jet Funny Car to ATC and made a big hit.

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While the school doesn't have a jet curriculum, these kids are interested in anything to race. Even they asked nicely, we still didn't have Ken start up the jet. It was hot enough in the neighborhood without it.


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