June 18, 2014 - "My official spin on this is we're better than half the people that were there."
Alan LaBarge (left) and Mike Smith, both 2014 graduates of Oxford High School, competed in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills national finals held last week in Dearborn. Photo by Dan Balsley. (click for larger version)
That's how Oxford High School Auto Instructor Dan Balsley cheerfully described the 24th place finish of Alan LaBarge and Mike Smith at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills national finals held June 10 in Dearborn.
"I was obviously hoping for a little bit better finish than that, but things weren't going our way," Balsley said. "We weren't having a good day out there on the field. Every once in a while that happens."
Ironically, last year's Oxford team also finished 24th at the nationals. "Boy, I'm carving out a spot for myself – 24th," Balsley joked.
Unfortunately, a combination of back luck and an extremely difficult set of challenges got the best of Smith and LaBarge, both of whom graduated from OHS last month.
The pair represented Michigan against 49 other state championship teams.
The teams were given 90 minutes to successfully diagnose and repair a variety of electrical and mechanical bugs (i.e defects) purposely placed in a 2014 Ford Fusion SE.
"It was a really tough competition," Balsley said. "There was only one clean car out of 50. Really, to have only one clean car out of 50 is an indication of how difficult it was."
A car is considered clean when all the defects have been identified and fixed.
Balsley characterized some of this year's defects as "tricky."
"There were a number of things that kept (the Fusion) from either starting or working properly," he said.
For example, Balsley explained that some of the circuits were "double-bugged," meaning even if one portion was fixed, another part, such as a bad switch, would prevent it from functioning.
One of the things that threw the Oxford team off its game was when one of the guys dropped a fuse into a fender area.
He spent some time trying to retrieve it, but his initial attempts were unsuccessful. He went to the parts department to obtain a new one, but unfortunately, Balsley said it's a "special type of fuse" that was not available.
Ultimately, he had to remove the fender in order to retrieve the fuse. Although he was able to get it, the waste of time left him frustrated, according to Balsley.
LaBarge and Smith went on to find many of the bugs, but they ended up running out of time and we're unable to get the Fusion running so they could drive it into the judging area.
"We were still on the field when the timer sounded," Balsley said. "Our hood was still up."
The Oxford team ended up in the "non-finished category," according to Balsley, along with 31 other teams.
"There were only 19 cars that finished and of those, some of them were in terrible shape," he said. "For example, Missouri had 23 demerits. So, you had some cars that were just barely able to limp off the field, but they were judged."
On the bright side, Smith and LaBarge each received a $10,000 scholarship offer from Ohio Technical College in Cleveland.
"Overall, it was a great experience and a lot of fun for the boys," Balsley said. "We had a very nice stay down there and lots of activities. It was a good event."
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.