OAKWOOD - Excitement is building in Daytona as race crews prepare for the 55th running of The Great American Race. For some of them, the road to Daytona began 500 miles away, right here in North Georgia.
The Motorsports Vehicle Technology Program at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood proudly has a group of alumni who have reached the top echelons of motorsports and several are in Daytona.
"We've got about six or seven guys working on various teams from Roush Fenway, Target Ganassi and Joe Gibbs Racing. We have alumni split in various positions including jack men, tire changers and fabricators, that will all be at the race and are all graduates from here," said Christian Tetzlaff, head of Lanier Tech's Motorsports Vehicle Technology program.
Some of those alums and teams they have worked for include Eric Wallace with Roush Fenway's #16 Nationwide Series team; Jon Moore with Roush Fenway's #60 Nationwide Series team and currently with the #99 Sprint Cup Team; and Kenneth Purcell with Hendrick Motorsports' #48 Sprint Cup Series team.
Tetzlaff says the program prepares students to fill various positions in the motorsports industry.
"We teach them how to do everything that a race team would do, be it in NASCAR, the American Le Mans Series, Grand AM, the 24 Hours of Daytona or any other international races around the world and the United States. We teach them how to be a part of that team. That means building race cars, repairing race cars, setting up race cars, building engines, repairing engines, transmissions, fabrication, composites and basically anything in-between."
The MVT program at Lanier Tech is more than just shop work. Recently Tetzlaff and the students prepared a race car and entered it in a 14-hour endurance race at Road Atlanta. During the race, the students prepared and pitted the car, allowing them to sharpen their skills and gain valuable real race experience.
"I got to learn about pit lane procedures, safety on pit lane and all the aspects of working as a team. Proper preparation to make sure if anything does happen, we are properly prepared down there on pit lane so we don't lose precious seconds looking for a tool we should've had. As long as everything is down there and organized, then pit stops should be pretty smooth," said Casey Cronk, a student in the program.
Smooth the pit stops must have been, since the students finished fourteenth out of 71 cars in the race, proving they are becoming serious contenders in the industry.
Tetzlaff says his students work hard in the classroom and at the track and they really enjoy what they are doing,
Student Joshua Warren speaks for his classmates.
"I really enjoy it, it's a lot of good experience, a lot of hands on. I'm learning a whole lot and highly recommend it for anyone interested in motorsports."
And it is not just Daytona where you'll find Lanier Tech's alums, the 12-year-old program has risen to be recognized by the top teams in all of motorsports.
"Two years ago we had a student that worked on the Corvette team that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. When they won he gave me a call in the middle of the night, noting the time difference. He was telling me of his success and how the team was doing. Because of the success of our alumns the word is getting out that we have a real program here. The program has been around for twelve years now and it has been very successful and the teams know that. I get calls all the time from teams looking for good help and we are doing pretty well filling the needs of the industry," says Tetzlaff.
Whether you are interested in suspensions, gears, engines, or the fab shop, Lanier Tech has it all covered. So pay attention the next time your favorite driver wins, they may be backed by these highly trained alums.
Alumni in Daytona and their current teams include:
Jon Moore with Roush Fenway
Eric Wallace with Richard Petty Motorsports
Kyle Stinson with Richard Petty Motorsports
Josh Shipplett with Roush Fenway
Kenneth Purcell with Joe Gibbs Oil