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Top Wrench Competition local news article dated April 2010

William Blount students build hot rod

High school projects can fly by fast, especially when they have an engine in them.

William Blount High School’s vocational program has spent three years building — and rebuilding — a hot rod. Schools in Knox, Sevier and Union counties have also made their own dragsters, said teacher David Reed.

Students and teachers have built the hot rod’s body from a 1929 Ford Roadster, Reed said. They started with just two pieces of steel and then cut and welded them together, he said.

Students and teachers later made a roll cage and shortened its rear end, Reed said. The hot rod currently has a 355-cubic-inch engine, and they plan to build a 454-cubic-inch engine, he said.

“After we finish it (the engine), we don’t know what our next project will be for it. It’s really day-to-day, and we’re kind of shooting from the hip,” Reed said.

Joe Byrd’s students performed most of the body work, and Reed’s classes did most of the engine work. They primarily work on the dragster after school as an extracurricular activity, Reed said.

The school’s core group of dragster mechanics are kind of like a team, said junior Taylor Sparks. “They don’t play football or (organized) sports. So, this is something everybody can be involved in,” Reed said.

Teachers have twice raced the hot rod in competitions, but it hasn’t performed up to William Blount High School’s expectations, he said.

​Top Wrench 

East Tennessee's career and technical education students got the opportunity of a lifetime Thursday: hands-on experience with industry professionals.

About 400-450 students and teachers from 14 area schools attended the 19th Annual Top Wrench Competition at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, said Master Sgt. Randall Patterson.

Participating students had to repair a 350-cubic-inch small-block engine, crack an electronic code on a late-model car, weld a piece of scrap metal into a design and change a tire in true pit-crew fashion complete with a jack and impact wrench.

Anderson County and William Blount High School broadcast journalism students also made 30-second public service announcements. Judges will select that contest's winner next week.

Top Wrench stresses drug-free lifestyles, communication and team building skills, responsibility, creative thinking and trust, said Joe Marshall, the program's founder. “I think all our goals have been accomplished this year,” he said.

The competition also serves as a work force development initiative that stresses worker competence, said coordinator Tom von Berg. “It's another necessary skill for our kids to get good manufacturing jobs in East Tennessee,” he said.

A professional B&W Y-12 welding instructor judged the welding competition, and the company is also looking for welders, von Berg said. “I think this is an opportunity for our students to get access to good jobs at the national laboratories,” he said.

The East Tennessee Foundation, B&W Y-12 and private donors make the event possible each year, von Berg said. R & D Metals & Chemicals Inc., of Knoxville, also gave $500 to the welding competition's two winners, he said.

Scholarship winner

A William Blount High School student was awarded a Top Wrench scholarship for the second consecutive year.

Nicholas Farmer was awarded a $6,000 scholarship to the Tennessee Technology Center following the competition. David Wright won the scholarship last year.

Top Wrench Competition News Article dated April 2009

Students from schools in nine counties, including William Blount and Heritage high schools, competed April 16 to see who could record the best times starting a bugged engine, repairing a “computer” car and changing a tire on a race car.

The fun was all part of the annual Top Wrench competition at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base. Twelve teams from Knox, Union, Anderson, Campbell, Monroe, Roane, Blount, Sevier and Jefferson counties participated in the April 16 event, said Top Wrench founder and coordinator Tech Sgt. Joe Marshall, (Ret.) USAF.

The event brought out good competition, and one William Blount student walked away with a scholarship. William Blount High School senior David Wright won one of the scholarships and a Union County student won the other. “Wright will be furthering his education at the Tennessee Technology Center with a grant from the East Tennessee Foundation, the West Knoxville Sertoma Club and the Top Wrench competition,” Marshall said. “We match the Hope lottery scholarship so they get a full ride.”

Marshall started the event in 1991. He retired from the Air Force two years later in 1993 but continued building the event to where this year there were 440 students competing. “It was our biggest year ever, and this is our 18th year,” he said.

The winner in the wheel-changing event was West High School. The winner in the static engine event was Central High School, and the winner in the electronic engine diagnostics event was Anderson County High School.

Marshall explained the three competitions. “In the Static Engine Competition, a big block Chevrolet engine is a static display on an engine stand. The teams have to debug it and get the engine started. Each team has 10 minutes to diagnose the problem and get it running,” he said.

The next competition is the Electronic Engine Diagnostics Competition. “The students have a “computer” car - a late model, old ‘56 Chevrolet - with parts from 18 different cars, and it has a problem. Each team has 15 minutes to figure out the problem,” he said.

Marshall said the students have to diagnose the problem, get the trouble code out of the computer, go to a laptop computer and pull it down on a satellite server that tells them exactly what computer part is defective. They have to replace that part and get the engine running within 15 minutes. “It’s a big challenge, but they’re up to the task. Absolutely, they’re sharp,” Marshall said of the students.

The third competition is a Pit Crew Wheel Changing Competition. “They have a race car brought to the base from Kevin Fouts Racing. They get the wheel on and off a car in a elapsed time and the winning time gets the win,” he said. “Last year the winner did it in 22 seconds.”

Marshall said that in each competition, first place got $300 and second got $200. The competition was about more than money, he said.

“It seems like the bragging rights to winning the competition has accelerated each year. Now, in the 18th year, it has become a prestigious thing to win because it’s a tough competition,” he said.

Marshall said the event encourages teamwork, problem solving and communication. “More importantly, they got to see an honest-to-goodness drug-free workplace,” he said.

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