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Oregon students win national auto mechanics contest

June 16, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Armed with a pep talk from a former Miss America, supporters’ cheers and red toolboxes, 50 teams of teen-age mechanics attacked deliberately disabled cars in a national contest Monday.

The team from Oregon won first place, followed by technicians from Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Hawaii and Oklahoma.

``It’s exciting,″ said winner Kyle Recla, of Vale, Ore. ``We weren’t sure we were going to win. There are some pretty good teams here.″

James Dunst, manager of the Auto Skills contest, said the competition was designed to help students develop the ability to keep up with the rapid pace of automotive innovation.

Dressed in white jumpsuits, the contestants _ all of them high school student mechanics _ began gathering on The Mall early Monday, many of them with family members and friends who traveled to Washington for the occasion.

``I’m here to show support for my son,″ said Mary Nelson of Colorado Springs, Colo. ``I gave him a big hug this morning and told him I’d say a prayer for him.″

On hand to boost their morale was Miss America 1996, Shawntel Smith. Even though the contestants did not have to go through swimsuit competitions, Smith, 25, told them Sunday that their experience was similar to running for the Miss America beauty pageant.

``I also advised them to keep three things in mind: Believe in yourself, focus on what you’re doing and never look back and think, `Goodness this may be a little tough for me,‴ said Smith.

Each team had 90 minutes to discover and repair 11 defects in a new red, blue or white Ford Crown Victoria. The defects included problems in the right ignition coil, left-front air-bag crash sensor, fuel pump underhood relay and the throttle cable.

After an organizer fired a starter pistol and shouted, ``Start your engines if you can,″ the technicians sped to their assigned vehicles. They bent under hoods, sprawled on the grass, crouched on car seats, their fingers frantically searching for the defects.

``I was pretty nervous. I was shaking,″ said Blake Taylor of Thomson, Ga.

Thirty-five minutes and nine seconds into the contest, cheers and whistles rose from the crowd. The New Hampshire team had closed its car’s hood, signaling the work had been finished.

But that did not mean a trophy for the two mechanics. The car had to go through a final inspection _ inspectors found a fault in the left-front air bag _ and the results of a written exam Sunday had to be factored in. The two men ended up in 18th place.

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