Friday, December 18, 2015

TOP STORY >> JHS auto team makes history

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville High School’s team, the first-ever from Arkansas to compete at the national Performance Racing Industry (PRI) conference in Indianapolis, placed 38th.

Coach and instructor Wayne Griffin pointed out that 200 groups attempted to qualify for this East Coast contest.

Students Brandon Singer, Sam Dinkins, Cody Anderson, Cody Calhoun, Jacob Smith and Cody Savage, as an alternate, represented the state.

Smith is enrolled at North Pulaski High School, but he attends shop classes at JHS, along with others from NPHS and Sylvan Hills High School.

The team’s task was to “tear down” to the bare block a 350 engine in the quickest time possible, without using power tools, Singer explained. The crank and cam are left in it, the motor is rebuilt, and everything is torqued to specifications so that it would still run with oil and gas.

Seconds or minutes are added for errors, and an average was taken from three attempts to calculate the team’s overall time.

The team’s average time was 38 minutes, their coach told The Leader.

Griffin also said, if the teens hadn’t been penalized for mistakes, their fastest time would have been 25 minutes and they would have ranked 20th.

With the errors, their fastest time was 31 minutes, he noted. But, the first year the competition was held, the winning score was 39 minutes, Griffin added.

“I’m ecstatic about how they did,” he continued, noting that the plan for next year is to qualify for the West Coast nationals held in Las Vegas by having a time of less than 24 minutes.

The top four teams from this East Coast contest move on to face off against the top four from the Las Vegas event.

The JHS team, sponsored by Allstar Performance, has been practicing around 6 in the morning Monday through Friday, and after school, since February on the same motors used at the conference.

The school didn’t provide the engines, but the students held fundraisers at David’s Burgers and Gwatney Chevrolet to buy them.

To go to the PRI conference, the team first had to qualify at the regional event in Dallas, which was held in March. The students’ time had to be less than 35 minutes, and it was 34 minutes, 56 seconds.

On why they formed the team, Singer had a simple reply. “We’re motorheads. We love cars. We love horsepower.”

The others commented that working on cars is what they grew up with and that having something fun to look forward to helps get them through the school day.

Another reason to compete was for a portion of over $16 million in scholarship money being awarded for vocational schools, like Universal Technical Institute (UTI), Griffin added.

Singer, Dinkins, Anderson and Calhoun hope to turn their hobby/extracurricular activity into careers. Smith and Savage weren’t available for a scheduled interview with The Leader.

The others’ dreams vary from working for Union Pacific Railroad to enlisting as an Air Force mechanic.

Griffin praised the students’ dedication. When he asked who wanted to be involved, dozens volunteered. But about half quit when they heard they’d have to organize fundraisers, and the rest dropped out when Griffin informed them of the grueling practice schedule, the coach said.