In times of economic struggle, there is no getting around the concern that hovers around high-performance automotive industry, but a new and enthusiastic crop of kids is excited about hi-po machinery. The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge (HRTEC), at the Second Annual Race and Performance Expo (rpexpo.com), was a thrilling reminder of how hard work and achievement are still highly valued commodities among the young guns. Eight high school teams and five community college teams competed, and the atmosphere was charged, as a large crowd of friends and family had gathered to cheer on their teams.
The event is reminiscent of a Top Fuel team between rounds at an NHRA event, competing against one another to achieve the fastest times, balancing swiftness with care so as not to be assessed with penalties. Students must properly disassemble a 350 Chevy engine using only handtools. Two judges watch as each team is required to remove the air cleaner, carburetor, distributor and wires, spark plugs, manifold, headers, cylinder heads, lifters, rocker arms, push rods, timing chain and cover, oil filter, oil pan, and all eight pistons and rods. The camshaft and crankshaft remain in the block. This is not simply an exercise in throwing parts together. HRTEC judges expect these engines to be able to run if gas, oil, and water were added. Time penalties are given to a team, as described in the 18-page rulebook, for missteps such as dropped components, improper disassembly or assembly, parts breakage, and poor sportsmanship.
Tim Freeman dreamed up the HRTEC for "the youth of America to get involved working with their hands. With the program, we gave the auto instructors another tool to keep the kids interested in coming to school." The HRTEC has expanded its original Chicagoland boundaries, including the Edelbrock 4th Annual Rev'ved Up 4 Kidz Charity Car Show in California and Lane Automotive's 21st Annual Cruise-In and Car Show in Michigan, which will have taken place by the time you read this. Recognizing the potential of this competition, a number of high-performance manufacturers have signed on to support the competition. Freeman comments, "The manufacturers did not care whose product was on the engines. There were competing products, but they saw a need for this competition."
Vic Edelbrock was present at the inaugural '08 HRTEC, and this year Christi Edelbrock was present not only addressing the teams and crowds gathered, but cheering on her team. In her words: "When you give students something to focus on that they are passionate about, it makes all their math lessons and classroom experience make sense. For us, being able to step in and support the youth of America, we wouldn't pass that up, and it's very important to us."
The potential for this event is enormous. Freeman explains the vision for HRTEC: "I would like to see this competition brought into divisions, similar to the NHRA. Different divisions could do qualifying events that could lead to taking teams to a national event for a national championship."
Speaking from the context of the HRTEC, Christi Edelbrock says it best: "Hot rodding is more alive now than ever. This downturn of our economy really highlights what people are passionate about. You may have to work a little bit harder, and you definitely cannot take anything for granted. It's exciting to watch their passion unfold and develop into something that they can take on not only to a career, but to a lifestyle."
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge
St. Charles, IL
February 14-15, 2009