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Auto students tops in state

Oxford High School seniors Mike Doell (left) and Josh English won first place at the state finals of the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition April 24. (click for larger version)
May 01, 2013 - Practice makes perfect.

That old adage certainly proved true for Josh English and Mike Doell.

Two weeks of practice before, during and after school ultimately led the Oxford High School seniors to win first place at the state finals of the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition held April 24 at the Macomb Community College (MCC) Expo Center in Warren.

"We were pretty happy about it," Doell said. "I wasn't really expecting it, but I was hoping we would come in first."

In just 29 minutes, 10 seconds, the duo perfectly diagnosed and repaired every single one of the numerous electrical and mechanical bugs (i.e. defects) deliberately placed in a 2013 Ford Focus SE. The result was a "clean car" that beat out the work of nine other two-student teams.

"We had practiced so much of this beforehand that when they ran into the problem where (the car) didn't start, they knew right where to look and what to do," said OHS Auto Instructor Dan Balsley. "They had it fixed and running so quickly, I think that helped give them the confidence they needed to continue at that pace."

Although they're not allowed to divulge the exact nature of the defect that prevented the car from starting, English explained that had Balsley not specifically prepared them for it as a potential problem, "that would havesunk us – big time."

"Everyone else was really stumped on that one," he said. "We got it right off the bat."

"That was probably the hardest to diagnose," Doell said.

Doell and English had their car running seven minutes into the competition.

"I didn't hear another car start until after we were done with final judging," English said.

"When they left and went to judging, there were no other cars that were even running," Balsley said. "Forty-five minutes later, there were cars that were beginning to start."

Balsley admitted the duo's early finish had him a little bit worried.

"My biggest concern when I saw them go into judging was that they might have missed something," he said. "But they made so many trips to the (competition's) line judge, I knew they were taking care of issues with the car at a steady pace."

English and Doell's win was even more impressive given six out of the 10 cars never made the drive from the competition area to the judging area.

"Four never got completed (so they were ineligible for judging)," Balsley said. "It was a very difficult competition to have that many cars that never finished. Ours was the only clean car in the competition."

The remaining two cars on the field got judged only because the teams managed to close their hoods in time.

Reflecting on the win, Balsley was both surprised and impressed. "I didn't have as much confidence going in," he said. "I knew it was a possibility (they could win), but I didn't know how likely it would be.

"Truthfully, in our practice sessions, they didn't perform as well as they did in the competition. That was their best performance. They were on target. They moved quickly. They were thorough. They didn't look stressed at all. They were taking care of business. They just performed so well."

"We were pretty nervous, I tell you that much," English noted.

As a result of their big win, Doell and English were each offered approximately $33,500 in scholarship opportunities.

English is planning to use a $10,000 scholarship to the University of Northwestern Ohio where he plans to earn a degree in diesel technology, so he can one day work on semi-trucks.

Doell will use a $500 scholarship to attend MCC for a year, then transfer to Ferris State University where he plans to pursue a degree in automotive service management.

Those scholarship opportunities will increase should English and Doell do well at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills national competition set for June 11 in Dearborn. There they will face 49 other teams who finished first in their respective states.

"Based on what I saw, if I could get another one of those performances at the nationals, we could win," Balsley said. "We have what it takes. I saw them work together and it was just beautiful. These boys are exceptionally bright and they work well together."

Balsley wished to express his gratitude to the Skalnek Ford dealership in Orion Township for loaning his students a 2013 Focus in order to prepare for the state finals.

"A lot of thanks goes to Skalnek Ford for allowing us to become prepared enough to achieve a win like this," he said. "Having the car makes all the difference. If you have that vehicle to learn (from) and to train on, it gives you such an edge going into the competition."

Ironically, following the competition, Balsley discovered his own car was "dead."

"I had to take a little ribbing," he said. "The contest manager couldn't resist poking fun at me by letting everyone know we had a clean car, we were the first ones done and I needed a ride home. It was funny."

Balsley noted MCC's service center took care of his vehicle and got him on the road again.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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