B'laster Names February Instructor Of The Year Finalist

B’laster Names February Instructor Of The Year Finalist

Rick Fortney from Bloomingdale Senior High in Valrico, FL is the February 2023 finalist.

From working as an oil change boy at his local Cadillac dealership when he was a kid to driving a Cadillac CTS-V with 650 horsepower and about a million smiles per gallon, Rick Fortney says the automotive industry has given him everything he could ever dream of – and he can’t wait to give it all away.

Rick Fortney approaches his job with the same passion he has for life.

Just a standard little daily driver…

“Well, dude,” Fortney told me, “I love my job. What you see is what you get. This is year 30 and I’m still loving what I’m doing. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Fortney, automotive instructor at Bloomingdale Senior High in Valrico, FL, is the February finalist in the B’laster/Tomorrow’s Technician “Instructor of the Year” program.

“We’re going to have fun every single day if at all possible because here’s the deal: the more fun they’re having, they’re learning and they don’t realize it,” Fortney says.

Rick Fortney and his class at Bloomingdale High School.

“Two weeks out of high school, I started cranking wrenches at the Cadillac dealership – they owned multiple dealerships, so I went from Cadillac to Chrysler to Nissan, and I really liked my Datsuns. I love my Datsun’s – I’ve owned over a hundred Z cars including 240s, 260s, 280, 280ZX, 300Z31s, 300Z32s, and a 350Z. The only thing I haven’t owned is a 370 and the new 400, which I haven’t even seen one on the street yet. baby is a ’75 Datsun 280Z with an LS2 with nitrous oxide on it. You know the old rule: friends don’t let friends drive stock.”

Fortney says that while he was building his relationship with the performance side of Datsuns/Nissans, he questioned whether he wanted to have a permanent relationship with the automotive industry.

Instructing inmates on the opportunities available in automotive service.

“Did I really want to work on cars for the rest of my life? I decided to take a detour to work at Coca-Cola. After two years, I realized I had to get back into cars. I found out there was an opening to be a teacher. So I came over and was one of 28 people who applied for one position.”

Fortney says his interview with the principal was going well. “At the end of the interview, she asked if I had any questions. I told her she had answered everything for me, when she said ‘Well, I have one more question for you. You asked what time school started but you didn’t ask what time school was over. Why not?’ I told her, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s a career. You do the job till it’s done.’ I guess I was the only person who applied for this job who said anything even resembling that. That was 30 years ago. I’ve called in sick one time in that period.”

These inmates successfully completed the Automotive Maintenance and Basic Welding courses in sid the Falkenburg Rd. Jail System.

In addition to mentoring his high school students, Fortney served as an instructor at the Falkenburg Road Jail System within the HIllsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where he taught a six-week automotive program to both male and female inmates.

“I just retired from this program,” Fortney says. “The local sheriff gave me a lot of credit for the program’s success. He said all these nice things about me, about how I was the first person, when they developed this program, to declare, ‘This is MY job. Stop looking.’ And he said, “You built the program from absolutely nothing. You set up all the curriculum. You made it to where it’s the success that it is today.’ It was pretty humbling,” Fortney says.

Humbling perhaps, but true. Fortney says he has averaged hundreds of ASE certifications per year between his high school and inmate students, all intended to help them find a job when they graduate or are released. And the success stories speak for themselves, though Fortney is happy to help tell the tales.

Father and son both took Rick’s class. “Many years apart,” he points out.

“As a high school teacher, you better put kids to work,” he acknowledges. “I have a Tire Choice around the corner from my school that has two of my students working there, which is not that big of a deal until you realize that one of them is a high school student and one of them was a jail student. I have a picture of me over there with both of them working at the same place. This guy came out of jail, he made a mistake but he wasn’t a career criminal. He’s a somebody too.”

One of his former female students became crew chief for the El Loco Toro, Monster Truck team. “She now works for Universal Training Institute because she got tired of living on the road with a race team,” he says. “Another time, I walked into my local Walmart and saw one of the girls in my class in the automotive department. I was all excited because I thought she was a technician there – she stopped me and said, ‘I’m not working here. This is my store. This is my department. I’m the auto shop manager here.’ She came out of my program!”

This 1976

Fortney says he remains active in promoting the business of automotive education.  As a certified NATEF inspector he meets regularly with all of the automotive shop instructors in Hillsborough County as well as industry partners and school administrators, continuously pushing the expectation for excellence.

“I tell people I don’t have time to sleep – I get a good 8 hours a week, so I’m good!” Fortney laughs.

In the past 30 years, he says the industry and the job have both changed dramatically.

“Man, it has gotten so much more technical! How about this? We went from bubble balancers to balancers that balance the wheel and tire for you,” Fortney says.

“The technology in the shop has just gotten astronomical and that is reflected in the classroom too. When I started teaching here, there was no cell phones – heck, people barely had pagers! If you wanted to know the firing order of a small block Chevrolet, you had to go look it up somewhere. Now, technology’s at your fingertips. I can ask any kid walking down the hallway to look up firing order of a small block Chevrolet – they won’t even punch it in. They’ll just hit Siri. The technology part has just exploded and if you don’t know technology, it’s hard to work in the industry now,” he explains.

These siblings all took Fortney’s class in high school.

To help them succeed in the field, Fortney makes it a priority to help them succeed in the classroom.

“I was teaching kids how to use four gas analyzers when I started here. Now I’m teaching them how to use a scan tool that tells you everything about your car. Mounting tires used to be a very simple procedure, but now you have TPMS sensors to watch out for. And a bunch of the ASE questions are about proportioning valves and metering valves,” he says. “To help them remember which one controls the front and which one controls the back, I tell them ‘Metering starts with M; proportioning starts with P. Which letter comes first? M – that controls the fronts.’ It clicks. You know, the saying, ‘KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.’ I’m a guy, so I have to simplify for myself.”

Fortney says the differences between high school classroom and jail classroom aren’t as dramatic as you might imagine. “With three sheriff’s deputies in the class with me, I had zero discipline problems. And also a lot of the inmates realize, that this program will help them get out of jail and make a living and stop wearing orange. Stop sleeping with 72 men at night. The enthusiasm, believe it or not, in the jail at times was a lot higher than in high school.”

Although he has recently retired from the program, he has ensured that it will continue serving its community members.

“I told them last November that I would be stepping away to start spending some time with my wife – I keep a picture of her in my phone ’cause I don’t remember what she looks like,” Fortney jokes. “Thye went into pure freakout mode worrying that the program would close. I told them not to worry. I’ve already got my replacement \and all the curriculum is done. They learned I wasn’t going to leave them high and dry. I’m still going to be giving them connections.”

“Safety Rick” signs urge caution across America, including classrooms, media publishing empires, professional garages and manufacturing entities and ASE’s Headquarters.

It’s all about the networking, after all. Fortney explains he has taught at least six groups of parents and their children over the years. “When I took this program over 30 years ago, there were 80 students in the program and now I have around 225 kids.

And in the jail, we started out with eight students and then we worked up to 15 a class. They’ve been like ‘Is there anything you’re not able to do?’ I just say, ‘Just keep throwing it at me. I’ll tell you when to stop throwing.’

Fortney equates being recognized as one of the Instructor of the Year finalists to being a local NFL legend. “I was sitting in class when I read the email notifying me, and I let out this scream. My kids were asking, ‘Did you hit lotto?’ I said, ‘In a way, yeah. This is not just Hillsborough County, this is not Florida. This is nationwide. I got recognized by my peers nationwide as somebody important. Like, right now I have goosebumps,’” he says.

Even Chad Knaus, when he was an up and coming NASCAR legend, was impressed with having his picture taken next to Rick Forrtney.

“I’m not trying to blow smoke – I’m telling you straight, this is my Super Bowl. I can’t get any higher recognized.”

Fortney realizes that he couldn’t have succeeded as well as he has without support from his team.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I love my administration. They’re like the greatest people in the world. And when you love your bosses and the people you work with, because the bosses make or break the place.”

Are you (or do you know) the next Instuctor of the Year candidate? Enter our contest today.

For more information on the 20222023 B’laster Instructor of the Year program or to nominate a worthy instructor, visit Tomorrow’s Technician today.

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