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Reading, ’Riting and Racing Performance Education
By Jim Walbot
For an automotive machine shop looking to enter the world of high-performance, finding qualified machinists and engine builders that have high-performance experience could be one of the greatest challenges. These days, there is some help, as many technical colleges have seen the need and are attempting to fill that void.
It wasn’t that many years ago that working in motorsports meant you crewed for a friend or family member, or you worked in a high-performance machine shop. Either way, you learned the business, or how to build race engines, or even how to work on a racecar through what was pretty much hands-on-training. You know, the old "learn by doing" system of education. Oh, you may have gone to a trade school to learn how to fix cars and trucks, but there wasn’t anywhere you could go to learn "motorsports."
The tremendous growth in motorsports the last decade or so has created some great opportunities for those looking for a career in this exciting field. It’s a field in which you can actually make a pretty good living and have fun at your job. These opportunities are there because motorsports growth has outpaced the availability of qualified team members. Much like any business, growth and success is directly related to the ability to find qualified people. Moreover, the right people can have a positive affect on that growth and success.
The University of Northwestern Ohio, located in Lima, OH, has been in existence since 1920. The insight that has taken this school through the past 80-plus years led to the introduction of a high-performance motorsports curriculum in 1993. The school recognized that the tremendous growth of the motorsports industry had created a shortage of qualified entry-level workers. The high-performance curriculum prepares a student to enter this fast-paced world of motorsports. Indeed, the University has placed dozens of graduates with major motorsports teams in NHRA, NASCAR and Indy Car racing.
Students working toward a degree in High-Performance Technology will get a well-rounded education that not only teaches the technical side, but also fulfills general education requirements that include several business-related courses. The high-performance course topics include high-performance suspension and steering, high-performance drivelines, high-performance engine machining, high-performance fuel systems/electronics/ignition, and high-performance custom engine building. Also included are courses in automotive technology. Nearly all of the training is done on state-of-the-art equipment.
Along with classroom work, the tech classes are all hands-on. Students will find themselves building racing engines and race cars. Everything from circle track and drag racing to off-road and road course training is included. University of Northwestern Ohio instructors are some of the best in the nation with a combined total of more than 825 years of trade and teaching experience. Many of these instructors have been involved in motorsports for years, and have much of the hands-on experience that can also help the student. For the shop looking to hire these students, the experience of these instructors can assure you of getting qualified workers.
Paul Higgins, a former driver/mechanic for the Jim Brockman Tractor Pulling Team is one of the university’s instructors. Paul is still involved in motorsports, building competitive pulling vehicles. He recently built the new "Irish Challenger" two-wheel-drive truck that Dan Walsh debuted at the Louisville Farm Show Championship Tractor Pull. Former semi-puller Billy Sergent is also an instructor, as well as an Associate Dean for the College of Technologies. Most of the other instructors have high-performance backgrounds.
One of the most significant moves the university has made was the purchase of Limaland Motorsports Park in 1997. Associate Dean, Ray Tinnel, explains the value of owning such a unique facility.
"Students can work with our educators in an environment that includes a dragstrip pad for 60-foot shots, a complete quarter-mile dirt track, and a road race circuit. Possessing our own facility allows them to gain invaluable practical experience," he says.
As part of the Technical Support Program, students are assigned to work with race teams at the track during the weekly racing program. The students can work alongside drivers and pit crews gaining invaluable real world experience in a competitive environment.
Students also work as technical support members with numerous other sanctioning organizations including NASCAR, ARCA, NHRA, ASA, IHRA, IRL and CART. An agreement was just signed with USAC making the University of Northwestern Ohio the official USAC training school. Students will be assigned to work with the different USAC teams.
Several students at the university have come from a tractor pulling background, including Jesse Petro, a current student.
High-performance is just a part of the school’s offerings. Other programs of study include Automotive Technology, Diesel Technology, Auto/Diesel Technology, Agricultural Equipment Technology, Automotive Management, Agribusiness Marketing Management Technology and Agribus-iness Management. Of the 40 instructors in the Technology College, 36 are ASE certified.
The University of Northwestern Ohio is the official school for CASE/IH technicians. Steve Hayes, CASE/IH instructor, says that CASE will bring nearly every piece of equipment it manufactures to the school for use during technician training procedures.
The university is also one of the largest participating schools in the Toyota Technical Education Network (T-TEN). The T-TEN training program prepares students for placement in Toyota and Lexus dealerships.
The university carries memberships in several professional and educational associations including: Association of Diesel Specialists (ADS), Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA), Automotive Service Association (ASA), National Automotive Technicians Education Found-ation (NATEF), National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).
Shops looking for qualified machinists and engine builders should contact the university. Anyone looking for a career in the motorsports, agricultural, or automotive industries should consider the Univer-sity of Northwest-ern Ohio to further their education. The University can be reached at 1441 Cable Road, Lima, OH 45805; 419-998-3120, or visit the school’s Website at www.unoh.edu.
In my next Fast Lane column, I will explore several other educational possibilities, including a few places where you can send your current employees for a little hands on high-performance training.