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Ford and AAA to Crown Country's Next Great Young Auto Techs

Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition provides $10.7 million in scholarships to top high school automotive technology students

DEARBORN, Mich., June 10 With the economy still running on a low tank, motorists are relying more on skilled auto technicians to keep their cars running rather than opting for new car purchases. Ready to answer that call, the next generation of automotive stars will be on display at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals in Dearborn, Michigan, June 14-16. A timed, head-to-head skills showdown, the competition gives top automotive students from all 50 states the opportunity to showcase their automotive knowledge and problem-solving capabilities by resolving "real world" repair challenges.

The 60th annual competition pits top high school automotive technology students from across the country with each state represented by a team of two students and their high school instructor. Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills enables many of its participants to embark on promising careers in the automotive repair industry with a record-high $10.7 million in scholarships offered this year. Demand for well-trained technicians remains on the rise with 60 percent of the independent auto repair shops reporting sales up last year over the previous year and 76 percent saying they expect more work this year, according to an Automotive Service Association survey.

In addition to the scholarships, the winning duo also will receive the opportunity to spend a week working under the hood with the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 DEWALT Ford Fusion team at its Concord, N.C., race shop and serve as honorary pit crew members during the August 2 Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. Additionally, the high schools of the top-15 teams from the National Finals will receive a new Ford Edge, Fusion or Focus for training purposes in their automotive technology departments.

Beyond the prizes and scholarships, this "best of the best" competition represents the final face-off and will bring together the best 100 automotive technology student in the country that have spent countless hours of class time and extra preparation in pursuit of the national title. Narrowed down from more than 9,700 students that started the competition back in March, the national finalists represent a variety of backgrounds and have taken several different paths in pursuit of their dreams.

Montana female competitor doesn't back down

Kelsey Petrini of the Montana team (Great Falls High School, Great Falls, Mont.) is only the second female student since 2005 to make the National Finals. And Kelsey feels extra pride in being the only female among the 100 national finalists. "I'm looking forward to doing what I love to do and proving to everyone that women can be just as vehicle-smart as men can." Kelsey is no stranger to competition against the boys -- the adrenaline-fueled teen is also an accomplished motocross racer.

South Dakota student sacrifices for Auto Skills opportunity

From the South Dakota team, Taylor Boeckman, of the state champion Yankton Senior High Team, sacrificed his senior year of high school to participate in the program. A year ago, Taylor was living in a Nebraska school district that didn't have an automotive technology program. To qualify for this competition, he and his family took the unlikely path of renting a home and moving to Yankton, S.D., which has a reputable program. "Taylor left behind his classmates and gave up his normal home life to be a part of our program," said instructor Robert Evans. "Now he is living his dream -- going to Nationals with a chance to prove again what his effort has rewarded him with."

Auto Skills is all in the family for Missouri competitor

The Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition runs in David Edwards' family. Edwards, a member of the Mississippi team from Clinton High School in Clinton, Miss., followed in his father and his brother's footsteps by earning the opportunity, along with his teammate Chase Wall, to represent the state of Mississippi in this year's National Finals. Father Brad Edwards was part of the 1967 Mississippi state champion team and brother Daniel represented Mississippi in the 2008 National Finals. Although school ended on May 22, Edwards and Wall have spent the last few weeks diligently preparing for National Finals with their instructor Charlie Melton.

Twins looking to peak at national finals

The National Finals places a premium on teamwork, and the Arkansas team (Jacksonville High School, Jacksonville Ark.) has a natural advantage in this area. Nolan Hildalgo and Brandon Hildalgo enjoy great team chemistry -- they are twin brothers.

This year marks the 25th year that AAA has been involved with the competition, serving as a co-sponsor since 1984, while Ford Motor Company celebrates its 15th year. More than 9,700 high school juniors and seniors competed in this year's competition. Following an online exam, the highest-scorers advanced to their states' hands-on competition, with the top teams from each state now heading to Dearborn, Mich., for the National Finals.