A pair of Harlem High School students leave for Michigan next week to show off their gearhead ingenuity in a national automotive competition.
Following Alex Hamb's and Jeremy Sanderlin's win at a state contest in April, the duo qualified for the national Ford AAA Auto Skills competition June 14-15 in Dearborn, Mich.
The team is practicing daily on the competition vehicle -- a Ford Flex loaned to the school by Bobby Jones Ford.
"As a team, we decided he (Sanderlin) would be the body man and I would be the engine man," Hamb said. "Bascially, my job is to fix the engine while he repairs any problems on the exterior and interior of the car."
During the state competition, where Harlem High was one of just 10 schools that qualified to compete, Hamb located an unplugged fuel sensor to repair the engine while Sanderlin fixed the internal motors of a rearview mirror and blown lights.
They might face similar problems in Dearborn, Sanderlin said.
"They make the problems and give us a work order telling us what's wrong with it," he said. "Then we have to go through the car and fix those problems."
Not only will Hamb and Sanderlin be competing against more than 40 other teams, they'll be racing the clock.
Teams are given only an hour and 30 minutes to repair their vehicles.
However, the time constraint doesn't faze Sanderlin.
"When we went to state, only two teams finished out of 10," he said. "We were the only team to get everything perfect."
Though the Ford AAA Auto Skills contest has existed for decades, Harlem High automotive teacher Nick Hayes said this is the first year the school has competed in it.
"It's a big, big accomplishment for any automotive program to just make it to state, but it really gives us a chance to be recognized in the community and show ... our business partners that we're producing viable students who can go on and compete in industry," Hayes said.
For Hamb, 18, and Sanderlin, 16, the state win and subsequent national qualification comes with more than $40,000 in scholarships to attend technical colleges around the country, including the Universal Technical Institute in Charlotte, N.C., where NASCAR mechanics are trained.
Sanderlin, a rising junior, already has decided on UTI, but Hamb, a recent graduate, still is considering his options.
While the NASCAR program has a certain appeal, Hamb said he has no intention of getting behind the wheel of a race car.
"I like to drive, but not that much," he said. "I would rather work on the cars."
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