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East Hall student powered up for auto competition
Mentors praise Dillan Landers’ talent
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East Hall's Dillan Landers has a SkillsUSA state champion banner hanging in the school auto shop Wednesday, April 25, 2018. The 11th-graders skill in auto repair has earned him another trip to the National automotive competition, his 3rd. - photo by Scott Rogers

Dillan Landers lay underneath his father’s 2005 Ford Mustang, preparing to change its oil. 

He had seen it done plenty of times by his father, Bryan Landers, and his grandfather, Dennis Mead. So now, it was his turn. 

It was the first oil change on the car, so the 7-year-old knew he had to get it right. He did.

“I just got myself pulled into it, and I’ve loved it ever since,” said Landers, now an 11th-grader at East Hall High. 

He’s competed in the SkillsUSA state and national-level power equipment technology competitions since he was a freshman in high school, and this year is no different. He’s headed to the national competition once again after finishing in first place at the state level for the second year in a row.

He’ll be competing against high school students from across the country by taking tests, identifying parts of small engines and diagnosing problems, among many other things during the competition in Kentucky.

Landers said his father is the one who really got him interested in the automotive industry. 

His grandfather is the one who got him interested in dirt bikes and motorcycles. He said he can take an entire dirt bike apart and put it back together in just one day.

“I didn’t even learn how to do it,” Landers said. “It’s more like I took it apart, and I learned how it came apart, and I could put it back together like it’s nothing. I just see how it works and then I know how to put it back together.”

Landers doesn’t have a shop at his home, but he said he grew up around engines and they simply became a part of his life. Whether it’s a car, motorcycle or lawn mower, he always wants to tinker with its engine and figure out exactly how it works. 

He started with what he called “little stuff” like changing oil and doing brakes. Now it’s evolved into building engines in the automotive shop at East Hall.

“At friend’s houses, they have shops, so I’ll go work on stuff,” Landers said. “It’s all progressed from there. People just like me working on their stuff.”

A lot of the knowledge Landers has gained over the years comes from his summer job at Strong Small Engines, a small engine repair shop in Lula. He said that’s where he’s learned a lot about things like power equipment and motors in lawn mowers.

“They teach him a lot as far as hands-on stuff, and I take that and critique it into a more precise thing,” said Dennis Shirley, automotive teacher at East Hall.

East Hall is the only high school in Hall County with an auto shop, so Landers said he was lucky to go there. 

Shirley has been teaching at East Hall for 13 years and said he has seen a lot of talented students come through the shop. With the funding he gets from the county, he said he’s able to give the East Hall students every opportunity to learn, as long as they want it.

And Shirley said Landers definitely wants it. He’s usually able to go over something once and Landers picks it up right away.

“I know good talent when I see it,” Shirley said. “And with him, I see it.”

But for some students around the country, going to the national competition isn’t a reality because they don’t have the funds to make it happen. For Landers, that’s where Slack Auto Parts comes in.

Henry Slack, owner of Slack Auto Parts in Gainesville, sponsors the national competitor each year. For the past three, it just so happened to be Landers.

“This is the future,” Slack said. “This young man is the future. And without automotive repair technicians being raised up to repair cars in the future, we don’t have a business.”

Landers said he wants to pursue a career in the automotive industry after high school. He said he’s “ready to go” since he’s already filled out an application and received scholarship money from the University of Northwestern Ohio to continue doing what he loves.

“Learning how to build an engine is my favorite thing,” Landers said. “You go from just a bunch of parts, figure out what makes more power and then you put it together and fire it up and it’s the best feeling ever.”