Belvidere North’s ‘Engine Team’ returning to Las Vegas
BELVIDERE – A group of Belvidere North students is going back to Las Vegas as the best in Illinois when it comes to tearing down and then rebuilding an automobile engine. And they’re record holders as well.
The so-named “Engine Team” at Belvidere North High School won the recent sectional competition in St. Charles and set a new meet record of 29 minutes, 33 seconds. There were 21 teams in the sectional with the North squad, formed just three years ago, one of the youngest.
North went to St. Charles determined not to make another trip to Michigan in order to advance to nationals. Only the sectional champion moves on to the next level and North was fourth at the Illinois competition in 2011. So they trekked to Michigan, where they did win and earn a berth at the Las Vegas event, as part of the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s annual automotive specialty products trade show.
Winning this year’s sectional didn’t happen without a hitch.
After the reassembling process was finished judges discovered one of the rocker arms was too tight. That added one minute to the Blue Thunder time. Earlier, a spark plug rolled out of a tray and hit the floor.
“Technical difficulty,” coach Rob Arata, auto shop teacher at BNHS, said with a laugh. That, too, brought a one-minute penalty.
But North’s speed was such that the two penalties didn’t keep them from taking first place. And the five team members were confident in their ability to tear down and reassemble in a hurry because, as Tiffany Trijo put it, “We’ve hit 21 (minutes) in practice.”
“We plan to break the record next year,” their coach said.
Tiffany is a senior and one of five team members who competed at the sectional the end of February. The others are senior Jaysen Wagner, the only returnee from last year’s national qualifier, seniors Steve Wolf, Danny Kroman and sophomore Josh Stefanick. Senior Paul Hornick is the alternate.
This was Tiffany’s first year in the auto shop class but it wasn’t without trying earlier. “I tried to get into the (auto I) class but couldn’t do that until my senior year,” she said.
This also was her first year on the team, but the “nerves” didn’t hit her until the sectional, when she and her teammates were “setting up on the table.” The top and middle of the engine are her areas of responsibility, then she helps out wherever necessary.
Same as last year
Jaysen works on the heads and pistons on disassembly, then is responsible for the front of the engine on reassembly. “I decided to do what I did last year,” he said.
For Steve it’s the pistons, heads and exhaust on reassembly, the heads and pistons on reassembly. “I really enjoy working on cars,” he said, adding that he has “a strong family background in it.”
He’s been in auto classes at North for the past three years. “I love it when I’m here,” he said of the large room in back of the school, which this particular day was filled with cars for students to work on. “It’s well stocked and we have a teacher who is so knowledgeable.”
It was the first competition for Josh, youngest on the team, and he admitted it was “nerve wracking. But it went pretty well; there were no surprises.” He works on the front of the engine during disassembly and organizes the variety of tools on the adjacent table during reassembly.
College scholarship awards of up to $10,000 are available in these competitions and Jaysen already has won one. He said he’s planning to attend Ohio Tech this fall for their BMX program. After the upcoming nationals he’s hoping to have two-thirds of his $30,000 tuition paid for.
With all of the team members being seniors, practices will be at a premium from June until shortly before nationals are held Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 in Las Vegas. “We’ll start practicing again the end of July or early August,” Arata said.
Then it will be getting together with diverse schedules will allow.
“The training we’ve received should keep our kills up to competition standards,” Steve said. “We took a break for Christmas (this year) and when we came back we actually pulled a better time.”
Jaysen said the SEMA show, of which nationals is a part, is the largest in the world. It draws 60,000 domestic and international buyers and is not open to the general public.
Times at nationals will decrease, Arata said, when 10, possibly 12, teams from around the country will compete against each other’s best efforts. There will be the seven sectional winners along with 3-to-5 wild card teams.
Each team’s hotel rooms are paid for but they have to pay for their own airfare and food. That means the Belvidere North team will be holding some fund-raisers in the future. “I don’t want them to pay for anything,” the coach said of his competitors. “Last year we raised a little over $3,000 in three months. This year we have more time.”
North’s team wants to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish and come home with more scholarships.
“They’re faster than last year; they’re my best team so far,” Arata said. “I can’t wait to take them to Las Vegas. They have a real chance to be the top team.”
Next year he plans to open membership to other than those in his auto classes and possibly have two teams.