By Greg Gelpi
With the Atlanta Motor Speedway gearing up for its first major race of the season, students in Clayton County are gearing up for careers in auto mechanics and auto racing.
Jonesboro High School is one of several county schools offering automotive classes to its students as a form of vocational and technical training.
"The whole thing about me driving and wanting to be a racecar driver (got me into this)," Jonesboro High senior Channing Blair said. "I like working with my hands and working on cars. The best part for me is learning something new everyday. It feels kind of good when I don't have to depend on anybody else."
Gaines Jinks, who teaches the class, said the class provides an overview of how automobiles work as well as how to resolve automobile problems, and not only do the students learn about vehicles, they have the opportunity to put that knowledge to the test.
"We try to bring them in vehicles and give them a learning experience," Jinks, a teacher of 12 years with 16 years of experience as North American training manager for Midas, said.
From oil changes to major automotive projects, he said he brings a "smattering" of problems and projects for his students.
The students learn by doing, performing in a "classroom" similar to most mechanic shops. Teachers, students and others let the students learn by working on their vehicles.
Another racecar driver in the making, Mitchell Wood, a sophomore in the class, said he wants a career in building and racing cars.
"Racecars are really different from regular cars, but learning now gives me a little help," Wood said. "My grandpa was a mechanic. My dad was a mechanic. My grandpa's dad was a mechanic. I guess it runs in the family."
Students are already lining up post-secondary education opportunities in the automotive field, including several students planning to attend the Universal Technical Institute, an automotive mechanical school.
"It's a good opportunity for students," Edgar Xavier Fuentes, a senior, said. "It's something for students other than college. I learn something new everyday in class."
Fuentes will attend UTI in the fall, where he will pursue his goal of working for Mercedes Benz.
The class enables senior Joshua Turner a chance to follow in his father's footsteps.
"I'm actually into computers, but that slid off into mechanics," Turner said.
The students use computers to analyze vehicles and identify problems, and more computers will be incorporated soon.
The "traditional automotive lab" will be remodeled to include a modern computerized lab in a few months with it probably opening for the 2004 n 2005 school year, Jinks said. The new lab will have computer simulators that students will be able to learn on before tackling a real vehicle.