Welcome to Shelbyville

By Andie Martin
Opinion Editor

New instructors, new equipment, new students, and old cars – things are really revving up at the Carroll Shelby Automotive Technology Center. Plans are already in motion to initiate the Carroll Shelby High Performance phase of the automotive program, which will begin next summer. And expectations are running high. The requirements for entering the mod shop program are stiff and extremely competitive. Students have to retain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, complete the first segment of the basic training program with either a certificate or a two-year degree, and be able to write an essay explaining why they wish to join the high performance program. The two newest automotive instructors, Mark Stephens and Keith Fennimore, will both be teaching the mod shop program to NTCC students who qualify for the training.

“The best of the best is what we’re looking for,” Stephens said. And once the performance, or mod shop, section of the training gets underway the hard work the students put in will definitely pay off. The top four or five graduates (depending on the number of students eligible for the program) will receive an internship at Shelby Automobiles, Inc. in Las Vegas, Nevada. The next four or five students will be awarded an internship at Quantum Performance in Dallas. Quantum is the only authorized Shelby mod shop in the southwest and works jointly with Shelby Automobiles, Inc. Stephens joins the automotive program after moving from one training profession into another. While working for BMW in Houston as a dealer trainer, instructing technicians already in the field on update procedures, he ran across the opening here at NTCC. “Carroll Shelby has been a huge influence on my career throughout my whole life,” Stephens said. “My first car was a ’65 Mustang and that’s when I first heard the Carroll Shelby name.”
 Stephens and Fennimore join longtime NTCC instructor Larry Derrick in teaching the students the training methods by working in what is known as the block system.
“We teach each area in a block,” Ron Hillman, chairman of the program said. While the students’ schedules may say they have three classes for this semester, they don’t actually have three classes per day. The instructors will run through one section at a time until it’s complete, then will move on to the next module.
“Right now (this semester) we’re teaching engine theory, next  we’ll be instructing the students on brake systems, followed by steering and suspension systems,” Hillman explained. Students have to pass all the block training sessions to be eligible for either a certificate or, for those students wishing to further their education, a two-year associate of applied science degree in automotive specialization. Many projects are in the works for the automotive students. At any given time, there may be three to five cars on the racks in the training area. Hillman said they are also considering taking in “live models” this semester.

“Live models are cars where the students have to diagnose the problem, fix the problem, and turn it over to the customer,” Hillman said. “We’ll do it as a means to generate revenue for the program. “There will be an hourly labor charge and a commission from the sale of the parts,” he said. “. . .it is still a huge savings from what
you would pay for retail.” Depending on the type of work needed for the vehicles, customers can leave their cars in the capable hands of the students who will work under the strict guidance of the instructors.

One big project for the automotive center is the donation of two 1967 Mustangs, valued at about $17,000. The donor and his son started restoring the cars, but the project fell through before the restoration was complete. “He donated these vehicles and the parts with explicit instructions that they become part of our program, and they’ll never be sold,” Stephens said. Once the cars are completed, they will become show cars, or eye candy, for the program. Plans are to trailer them around the country to create interest in the program and, of course, show off a little bit too.

The training program now has four instructors who teach all phases of the program. Hillman, Derrick, and Stephens teach the college level students, while Fennimore concentrates on the newly added dual credit classes.

Junior and senior high school students from Mount Pleasant High School attend classes five days a week with one class of 29 students meeting in the mornings and another class of nine convening in the afternoon.

After spending several years away from the teaching profession, Fennimore found that he missed it and was anxious to return. Now, both he and his students are experiencing their first semester at Carroll Shelby Automotive. “I like teaching and I really wanted to go back to it,” Fennimore said. He spent the last nine years working in the bio-fuels industry in New Jersey and was ready to teach again. “This is their (the students) first semester here,” Fennimore said. And it’s also the first time dual credit students have been involved with the automotive center. “We look at the dual credit program as being one of our strongest suits as far as marketing and promoting the program,” Hillman said. “We look at those students, the ones (who) are successful, as basically walking billboards back on their campus. “And hopefully, they’re telling people it’s a good program and you need to get into it.”

Due to the increase in the number of students this semester, the automotive department has had to make some changes in their teaching environment.
“To offset the expanded increase in enrollment,” Hillman said, “the administration has been very supportive and has made arrangements to expand our actual square footage of training area by some changes we have made and it has been adding a substantial amount of equipment.” Stephens elaborated on the new equipment, saying, “We’ve got three additional car lifts out there and one additional alignment rack that was just installed. And we just received another alignment rack.”

Future plans for adding to the equipment inventory include the purchase of a dynamometer, which measures engine power directly at the rear wheels of the vehicles. “We want to get that in here by the summer for the Carroll Shelby performance section of the program,” Stephens said. Some of the college level students in the automotive center have created their own club – the Shelby Automotive Technology Club. The first event the group participated in as an NTCC sanctioned club was Chick Fest in Pittsburg last month.
They showcased seven student cars in the parade and raffled off a Carroll Shelby signed die cast car to help generate money for the club.
No official plans for the club have been made as of yet, but some ideas they are tossing around include doing community work or maybe fixing up a car for a needy family in the local area. So, while students benefit from the expert instruction they receive from our professional automotive teachers, Hillman says he won’t leave them high and dry after they complete their training. Starting next semester, the future automotive technicians will also receive job placement skills. “We’ll teach them how to network, once they decide what they want to do,” Hillman said. “I want to teach them how to communicate with prospective employers.” Knowing what information to divulge and how to present themselves will make a winning combination for the students. “Our students will all be place-able,” he said.