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Rain or Shine: Top Auto Repair Teens Race to Fix Vehicles and Vie for Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills State Title

IRWINDALE, Calif.--May 6, 2005--Southern and Central California high schools' best auto technology students will compete in the Southern California finals of the 2005 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition at 10 a.m. today.

The competition takes place at Irwindale Speedway, where 10 student teams will each diagnose and repair a new Ford Taurus with planted repair problems like faulty wiring and malfunctioning computer electronics. Sprinting to the vehicles, 20 teens will pop the car hoods and demonstrate skills required for success as automotive technicians. The automotive industry offers some of the nation's most in-demand and highest paying careers.

High school teams that were finalists in recent years are returning, including San Luis Obispo and Poway. San Luis Obispo is sending two teams this year. Five years ago, San Luis Obispo finished in fourth place in the national finals.

"The competition showcases bright students who can further their education through this program," said Rick Lalor, event competition chairman and Auto Club motor sports manager. "Today's computerized vehicles require 21st Century 'techs' with computer, electronics and math skills. Servicing alternative fuel vehicles and hybrid vehicles will also challenge the automotive service industry of the future."

The Southern California finalists were chosen from a field of 40 teams by earning the highest scores on a two-hour written exam testing automotive diagnostics and repair knowledge. A separate contest for Northern California schools will run concurrently with the Southern California event that takes place at Irwindale Speedway.

The California team with the highest combined written exam and hands-on contest score will compete nationally for $5 million in scholarships in June in Washington D.C. Southern California's winners receive automotive equipment for their school. State champions also earn a scholarship to the Ford ASSET (Automotive Student Service Education Training) program - a path to earn two-year associate degrees in automotive service and other scholarships.

Many graduates go on to become technicians at Ford and Lincoln/Mercury dealerships and some progress to management positions. Those with two-year degrees will be able to earn a starting salary of $38,000 annually, with salary growth up to $100,000 or more for master technicians. Industry reports reflect a shortage of 32,000 service techs annually.

Southern California's high school finalists and instructors are:

High School      Instructor         Student             Student

Agoura          John Andersen   John Barut, 18     Justin Gorger, 18
Arroyo Grande   Loren Bradbury  Erik Gutterud, 17  Ryan Evans, 18
Arvin           George White    Jersael Perez, 18  Victor Bernabe, 18
Sultana         Jay Winters     Jonathan Rains, 18 Jonathon Zubiate,
Morro Bay       Jason M.        Eric Pennachio, 18 Dana Wilke, 16
Paso Robles     John Stokes     Matthew Reed, 17   Stephan Wagner, 17
Ramona          Michael Jordon  Garrett Raines, 17 Andrew Canfield, 19
Ramona          Michael         Jason Borges, 18   Brian Connolly, 17
San Luis Obispo Gary Hamilton   Taylor Mohr, 17    Jordon Scott, 17
San Luis Obispo Jeff Lehmkuhl   Chris Burd, 18     Lucas Grant, 18

Trained automotive technicians are among the most sought-after and highly paid professionals in today's job market, but many high schools are reducing or eliminating automotive programs due to lack of funding and/or trained teachers. The annual demand for qualified auto technicians exceeds the supply. The U.S. Labor Department estimates there is a need for 32,000 additional automotive technicians each year. AAA sponsors the skills contest as part of its educational efforts to attract and train more young people to the automotive professions.