Race Team Show Car Visits Highlight Industry Opportunities
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Race Teams Highlight Industry Opportunities

Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville, FL Uses Show Car Visits As Teaching Tool.

Dan Murphy, paraprofessional and automotive instructor at Nature Coast High School in Brooksville, FL, understands that keeping his students motivated sometimes requires creativity. Luckily, his geographic location makes some unique partnerships possible, providing chances to broaden students’ belief in their business opportunities far beyond the classroom.

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“We’re on the west central coast of Florida near two major north-south highways. Anytime during the year there’s always a race team of some sort passing by. Most of them have a show car team that travels as a promotional part of the team, often tied to one of the major sponsors. We always invite them in to show us their operation,” Murphy says. 

Murphy says that his school usually hosts more than a half-dozen teams per year, from many different styles of racing. “We’ve had Top Fuel teams here because we’re not too far from Gainesville. We’ve had NASCAR show teams here because we’re just across the state from Daytona,” he explains. “And we have a very close working relationship with our local Caterpillar dealer, Ring Power. They can help get showcase those sponsorships.”

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One of Murphy’s longest-standing and most anticipated visits each year, he says, is the show car associated with the NTT INDYCAR Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “I knew they had a show team because I’d seen it around the area before – I thought it would be an interesting inclusion in our class.

Students and staff at Nature Coast High School have found visits from race team show cars to be a valuable way for students to learn about racing and the automotive industry.

“As it turns out, the first year that I requested the show team, somebody somewhere, calculated that we were seven miles outside of their service zone,” Murphy recalls. “Normally, that would just be the end of it, but we were a little bit more dogged in our pursuit of the team. I must have hit the right nerve somewhere because each of these races is independently owned and just through ringing enough bells and calling enough people, I wound up speaking to the race owners.”

Murphy explained that, though he understood his program is technically outside the race’s service zone, the school was very interested in hosting the team. “Gary Lewis, show car team leader, has come back every year since 2010.”

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The 91-student strong automotive program hosts the day, as Murphy’s students load and unload the car from its trailer. “We put it in the center of the school quadrangle under a pavilion outside of the cafeteria. During each of the three lunch periods, it’s open for all of the students in all of the different programs to look at it and ask questions,” he explains.

Not surprisingly, the race car appeals to more than just automotive students, Murphy says. “We’re not really able to teach an entire class around the car’s presence because the time factor for one day is just not there. But the hosts who come with the car and all the team members are very good and very patient,” Murphy says

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“The manufacturing instructor brings his kids down – he can get his kids interested in the carbon fiber stuff. They’ll actually talk about the different composites and materials and discuss how the car is put together. The graphic arts kids come down and they take photos and videos of the car because it can be a centerpiece for their projects. The culinary kids cook the lunch for the team members when they come in. The journalism students report on the day. They’ll talk to the automotive students about how the car is designed to disintegrate on impact and absorb the force of the crash to protect the driver. They’ll talk about all those topics with small groups,” says Murphy.

Students at Nature Coast High School had the chance to ask anything they wanted about visiting race cars. “If I have an opportunity to immerse student in something that they may not get to see because they’re young, I’ll take it,” instructor Dan Murphy explains. “Part of education is not just to teach them the curriculum, but it’s also to give them experience.”

“The majority of the day is open for display for our students – I’ll tell you, for the four hours or so that they’re set up, they get some pretty interesting questions.”

One of the most enlightening discussions he overheard this year regarded tires. “I found out through these folks from INDYCAR that every tire is serial numbered and accounted for. They are constantly checking the serial numbers and from what I understand they’ve only lost three tires in the entire history of INDYCAR racing since they started doing this. I learned that, due to the design specifications in each tire, they don’t want anybody else getting a hold of them.”

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Part of Nature Coast’s approach, and the automotive program in particular, says the instructor, is that he and his colleagues don’t just confine themselves to their cluster, their classroom or their curriculum dictated by the state or other governing bodies. “We bring in outside instructors, such as certification courses from Myers Tires to teach students how to legally repair a tire. We teach our freshmen first aid by a trauma nurse from the trauma center in one of the local hospitals. We have banking classes for our seniors that help them make decisions when they’re getting ready to start a job: ‘What do you do with that money and how do you deal with it?’” says Murphy.

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“If I have an opportunity to immerse student in something that they may not get to see because they’re young, I’ll take it,” Murphy explains. “Part of education is not just to teach them the curriculum, but it’s also to give them experience.”

And racing is a great way to showcase all those different categories.

Murphy says racing has inspired some of his students in the past. “I’ve had a couple who went on to the NASCAR Technical Institute. I’ve got one former graduate who works for Cadillac, but he’s also taking his racing career to the next level as a part-time race dirt track racer.

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“And I had a student who, after graduation, went to work for Daytona International Speedway, for the track itself in the tour division. There’s something out there for everyone. We try to show them it’s not all about just turning wrenches: There’s ownership, there’s finance, there’s public relations, there’s more to it than just being a mechanic,” he says.

Murphy also applauds his local Chamber of Commerce for its involvement in his efforts to engage students and industry. “They have been very supportive as well – the Chamber has faithful members who come through and make sure that their presence is known as well, so that the race’s ownership team knows they’re not only going to a high school, but that the local business community is involved too.”

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Although the Firestone INDYCAR Grand Prix of St. Petersburg had to be cancelled this year due to COVID-19 safety concerns, Dan Murphy, Brucey the Shark mascot and all of the students at Nature Coast High School say the visit from the Show Car team was a win-win for all involved.

“I don’t even know how to say it because the amount of time that it takes and because of the expense to get that team and the car up here. It takes a whole day on the car calendar,” Murphy says. “Of all the partnerships we’ve had with all the different teams and all the different groups that have come in here, these guys are really been the most supportive and the most consistent.” 

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