Five students at Peach County High School are sitting at the top of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow rankings.
With a qualifying time of 17:35, these high schoolers, under the direction of automotive instructor Johnny Rickerson, have come a long way in the three years Peach County has been in the competition.
Caleb Carter, junior; Preston Kersey, junior; Kyle Windham, sophomore; Daniel Mayorquin, junior and Dakota Ezell, junior, are the A-team and are sponsored by ARP, which makes high performance fasteners.
These five students take apart and reassemble a small black 350 Chevrolet engine in less than 20 minutes. To qualify for the national championships, which will be held in Las Vegas and in Indianapolis, the qualifying time has to be 35 minutes or better. According to the Hot Rodders website, the top 10 teams are all under 27 minutes.
“It feels great. There is no other way to describe it,” Carter said of the team’s qualifying time.
The school also fields a second team, the B-Team, which qualified this past weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway with a time of 28:48. The A-Team won with a 17:11.
B-team members are Sean Lassetter, Shane Staples, Ka’Shawn Burke, Heather Bedgood and Eric Matthews.
During practice in the auto shop at the school, each team called out words of encouragement between the sounds of the whirring of bolts being taken out, pistons being pushed into cylinders and distributor caps being plugged in.
“Let’s rock and roll,” Rickerson said to the students as they deftly took out parts from the engine.
At the end of each run, the four students, along with their table person, run behind the tool table and lift their arms up signalling they are done.
The five A-team members have already gotten scholarship offers from three different programs, totally $45,000 apiece, just from participating in the program.
Of the five, only Windham is looking at becoming an auto mechanic. The rest are using the money as a springboard to pursue other endeavors.
Carter wants to become an engineer while Ezell and Kersey want to become machinists.
“I love cars. I just don’t enjoy working on other people’s cars,” Kersey said.
Last year, the team finished seventh in the nation.
To run a team like this, Rickerson said, it costs on average about $4,000. To get to nationals alone will cost about $5,000 in airfare and to ship the tools across the country.
He hopes a local business will step up to sponsor the team to help with the cost associated with having a successful team.
Cost is one of the reasons Peach County is the only school in Middle Georgia to have a Hot Rodders of Tomorrow team. The other is the time it takes.
Rickerson usually holds practice four days a week after school for his two teams and travels with his students on the weekends to shows.
The teacher knows that these scholarships can make a difference in his students’ lives. They saw his vision for the program when he started three years ago.
“I’m looking at having a decent life with wherever this takes us,” Carter said.
For more information or to donate, contact Rickerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 478-825-8258, ext. 1618.