BROOKSVILLE — Twenty-five Nature Coast Technical High School automotive students took a test recently in an attempt to qualify for the state Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition.
The contest administrators determined which students will participate by looking at the top 10 high schools, then the two highest-scoring students from each of those schools.
The state competition is at Seminole State College in Sanford on May 13-14, and Nature Coast seniors Austin Harlow, 17, and Eion Keiper, 17, will be among the 20 competitors.
Harlow and Keiper have been in the automotive classes of instructor Kevin Moglia and assistant instructor Dan Murphy for all four years of high school. They took one class as freshmen and two classes each year as sophomores, juniors and seniors. They have studied electrical systems, steering and suspension, brakes and engine performance.
"I think we've been in every class together," Keiper said.
And both say they're ready for the competition.
"We've been talking about going to this since freshman year," said Harlow. "We didn't think it was really going to happen."
"But it did," Keiper said.
Once they get there, the students will encounter a 2014 Ford Fiesta that has some type of problem.
"They give us a car. You have to diagnose what's wrong with it and request the parts," Harlow said.
"Then you've got to fix it," added Keiper.
"Everybody expects us to do better than we think we'll do," Harlow said.
But they admitted they're confident they are up to the task.
Moglia said the winner of the state competition goes on to the national contest in Dearborn, Mich. He said he has been impressed with his students' dedication.
"It's all about scholarships," he said, "but there are perks above and beyond." He said he believes two national winners get new cars.
Moglia's students have made it to the state level in six of the past seven years.
The state competition is highly competitive, he said, but "just making it . . . is an honor."
So what do two young men so immersed in automotive studies drive?
"Toyota," said Keiper, "but that's not my preference." That would be a 1969 Mustang fastback.
Harlow drives a 2002 modified Volkswagen Jetta.
"It's got a lot of stuff added to it," he said.
Harlow doesn't have a particular dream car.
"I just want to own 'em all at one point," he said. "I've had (about) nine cars since freshman year." He buys them, fixes them and then sells them.
After they graduate, both students have post-secondary education plans.
"I want to go to PHSC (Pasco-Hernando State College) and get my associate's degree," said Keiper, "and then go to fire college and then do automotive on the side."
"I'm going to Universal Tech Institute," said Harlow. "It's an automotive institute in Orlando."
He said that, in addition to his class work at Nature Coast, he already has some experience in the business, working as an intern at A-1 Auto Express in Spring Hill.