A lot of great things come out of Akron, Ohio. For one, you’ve probably heard of the city because it’s the hometown of basketball star LeBron James. But, Akron has a lot more to offer, especially in the automotive world.
Akron was, at one point, considered the rubber capital of the world. In the 1950s, Ohio housed some 130 tire companies, with five of the largest tire companies in the U.S. located in Akron (Akron is called “Rubber City” for a reason).
Today, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. still has its headquarters in Akron, while other tire companies have test centers in the area, including Bridgestone and its Firestone brand.
Just down the road from Goodyear HQ, you’ll also find East Community Learning Center (East CLC). The high school from the Akron Public Schools district has big plans for its automotive program and the future of its students getting ready to begin their automotive careers.
The SkillsUSA chapter at East CLC got their hands on a 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlo from neighboring Stark State College and got to work on the car after winter break.
Twice a week, a group of students meet after school to work on the car. The plan was to completely overhaul the car to drag race specifications, giving the students experience in the performane realm of automotive. With automotive instructor Chad Groom leading the students, that meant: 1) getting the car running; and 2) having fun with race-ready modifications.
The car had a lot that needed updated, and the classroom needed cash to get the job done. The students got to work raising money through a car wash program that would help raise funds for program’s projects and a car show on June 2, where the community can see the car in person.
“The teachers just started coming in by the hour,” Kam’Ron Mathews-T-Johnson, a junior auto student at East CLC, recalls. “One car went in; another car came out. It was loaded up all week.”
Groom also got his hands on a grant for the project and junior engineering student Zack Smith, who is also part of the Monte Carlo after school project, has been reaching out to local businesses like Summit Racing and welding shops for help and support.
From Hoopty to Race Car
The car had a laundry list of issues to attend to, and the students were quick diagnose and troubleshoot before making repairs and replacing parts.
“I remember sophomore year when me and Zack were in this same program. The car was basically a hoopty—just a beat up car. No one cared about it or anything,” Mathews-T-Johnson recalls. “But, we just put a lot of effort into it.”
“It had many starting and running issues,” adds Alex Jacot, a junior auto student at East CLC. “We decided to diagnose it, and it turned out to be an oil pressure sensor. Once we got that replaced it fired right up. And then we realized there was a misfire.”
A spark plug proved to be the culprit and, once replaced, the engine started right up. Turning the vehicle into a car fit for a drag race, however, required more specialization than your typical repair.
“Working on the Monte Carlo was an incredible experience that allowed us to dive really deep into the performance side of automotive tech,” Groom says. “We started with scan tools and diagnosing the vehicle. We did a preliminary check of the vehicle, diagnosed and repaired all of the issues. We also used compression and vacuum gauges to establish the overall health of the engine.
“Once it was running, it was time to play a little. Supercharger modifications, engine computer tuning, intake and exhaust work and so on.”
The exhaust wasn’t quite working, and with a turbo kit going into the vehicle, the team decided to replace the 2.25” U-bend to an all stainless 3” downpipe, allowing the exhaust to flow more freely, giving the car more horsepower and torque needed to get a car up to speed in a drag race.
“My favorite part of the project, I have to say, was the exhaust,” says junior auto student Nicholas McDonald. “The exhaust that we had, it was all dusty and wasn’t really working right. It had a few kinks every now and then.”
Under the hood, the students took the transmission valve body apart and installed a shift kit. This allows the car to shift fast and hard, as opposed to delayed like your average car, giving it power for the quick boost needed in drag racing and cutting down time to get to speed. The shift kit and transmission work were all part of a Stage 2 Performance kit purchased from ZZPerformance.
“This kit was the big thing,” says Groom. “With this we did an upgraded supercharger, cold air intake and reflash.”
With the kit, the students also added a new belt and underdrive pulley, which gave the students a smaller pulley to help make the internals rotate faster and increases boost.
“With all that extra air that we added, we put the new computer in,” Groom adds. “The new computer adjusts fuel. We need to run more fuel to compensate for more air.”
Combining Career Paths
The students wanted to get more air flow by cutting a hole in the headlight to direct air flow into the intake. This was just one of the parts of the project where a student with a skill outside of automotive joined the project. Junior welding student Emily Isenhart came on board once her beginner auto class found out she could weld.
“I’m a fabricator, and I’m in the welding class right next door, so I help weld stuff,” she says. “I’m making an air intake box… there is a gap between the air intake and the headlight. So I cut the headlight out and I’m now making a box to make the airflow just go straight through the air intake instead of going under the car.”
Zack Smith, an engineering student who wants a career that mixes automotive into engineering, also used his skills to help the Monte Carlo project.
“We found out that the gauges weren’t working; so we took it out,” he says. “Then I took the old motors out and bought some new ones. I had to solder the stepper motors back in and place it back in the car and put the whole dash assembly back together. My whole electric engineering class helped out with that a lot.”
Building Careers and Friendships
Working together on the Monte Carlo project has brought the students closer together over the past few months. With their own backgrounds, skills and interests, the student find common ground and just had a good time working on the car together.
“[My favorite part was] working with my classmates, bonding with them, learning what they know, helping them out, getting to be goofy with them—you know, the basic stuff,” says junior auto student Will Pavlov.
“It’s a team. It’s like a family in here,” Mathews-T-Johnson adds. “Everybody gets along perfectly fine. There’s no hate… We all basically live in the same neighborhood and go to the same school, so we see each other every day. Like I said, it’s like a family. It brings us closer together, but we get to learn more that benefits us toward the future.”
The project is just a bonus to the students’ future careers. Akron Public Schools has been working on making its high schools more career-focused to help their students move into the workforce after graduation.
Right now, the automotive students are earning college credit through a program called College Credit Plus. Once they graduate, the students can take two classes (in one semester) at Stark State College and earn a certification. Additionally, the school pays for the students to take ASE tests and earn ASE certifications, and during their senior year, students can get out of school at lunch to work at a local dealership or wherever else the school helps place them.
“Automotive is my favorite class because I learn more from our teacher Groom than any other teacher,” McDonald says. “I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I learn from doing work in the field, not at a desktop or anything. And yeah, he really looked out for me in this program here and we go through a lot.”
“I wasn’t in here sophomore year, so I started junior year. I’ve been here ever since and I love it,” Jacot adds. “I want to do this stuff as a job for a long time. It’s my passion.”
The students will showcase their passion for auto and the finished Monte Carlo at the East Community Learning Center Classic Car Show on June 2.