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Students will race to fix their car first

Union Leader Correspondent

May 08. 2013 11:08PM
James Niland, at left, a longtime automotive services technology teacher, helps Andrew Berube, 18, a senior from Lee, and James Reed, 17, a junior from Somersworth, review the key systems of the 2013 Ford Focus SE in preparation for the annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition at New England Dragway in Epping Saturday. They will compete against other teams from New Hampshire and Vermont in hopes of representing the state in the national finals in Michigan. (JOHN QUINN/Union Leader Correspondent)

SOMERSWORTH -- The timeless battle of man versus machine remains a personal one - a quest to improve using a mix of time-tested skills and new technology.

James Reed, 17, a junior from Somersworth, and Andrew Berube, 18, a senior from Lee, will represent Somersworth High School Career Technical Center (CTC) and face off against teams from nine other schools during the annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition at New England Dragway in Epping Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.

Their instructor, Jim Niland, who has been teaching automotive services technology for the past 37 years, said the teams will face the same problems purposely created in identical cars - a 2013 Ford Focus SE - which they must repair before driving it across the finish line.

"Quality is more important than speed," Niland stressed.

Reed, who started working with cars last year, said he's most concerned about a fault which could be in the electrical system, which could be a result of a bad light bulb, a loose wire or a misplaced connection.

"You just need to blank everything else out," Reed said. He and fellow students have been studying the mechanical data about the vehicle and reviewing the key issues which cause prevalent problems.

Berube, who attends Oyster River Cooperative School District and works part time at Car Works in Lee, said patience is crucial as they must look over the entire vehicle and focus on the issues. He said his hands are his most important asset.

Niland said the competition encourages students to quickly and accurately diagnose the problems - which could be a need for a new part or reconnecting a wire. He said it's important to resolve the issues correctly to prepare the next generation of mechanics.

"Diagnosing is a process of elimination," Niland said. It allows people to focus on pertinent issues to resolve a problem, he said.

"A work order will give symptoms - just like a customer complaint," Niland said. He expects teams to have to remedy about 10 issues.

He said the issues are challenging, but not impossible or time intensive, as organizers want participants to find them. He said savvy mechanics should be able to locate the problems.

Niland said Reed and Berube have been practicing on a 2013 Ford Focus SE, which was generously donated by Dube Ford in Dover last week.

CTC Director Bette Chamberlain said the school has done well in the competition during the past 30 years.

"We usually place in the top three," Chamberlain said.

Niland said this competition - like any sporting event - has both mental and physical requirements, but participants need to know more than merely turning a wrench.

"In here, it's us against the machine," Niland said.

The winners of the state competition are eligible for scholarships, prizes and the opportunity to represent New Hampshire in the national finals at the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

For additional information on the competition, visit

Education Technology Somersworth Photo Feature

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