Dennis Shirley cranks a custom racing motor, and the sound bounces off the walls of East Hall High School’s auto shop.
Shirley, the school’s automotive technology instructor, worked with more than 60 students over the last year to build a custom racing motor, sponsored by race car owner Ron Olexa. The engine is destined for Olexa’s custom ’68 Lola, which will be housed at Road Atlanta in Braselton once complete.
Assistant Principal Heather Barrett said the students worked more than 200 hours on the engine.
“They’ve been building it from scratch for him,” Barrett said. “We’re the only school in Hall County that has an automotives program still, and we have quite a shop down here for the kids to learn in. A lot of our kids go into the industry from this program.”
One student, Brandon Whitmire, worked on the custom engine from the beginning of the project.
“It’s a 362 small-block Chevy,” said Whitmire, a senior. “So it’s on a small block, and the only thing stock on it is a block and it’s a Chevy block. Everything else is custom.”
Whitmire said it runs on 93 octane, and Shirley said it’ll “conservatively” get 500 horsepower, or up to 600 if someone wants to tune it up.
Shirley said his shop is an opportunity for students to learn hands-on applications of their typical classroom lessons.
“A project like this gets to be pretty big, but it’s a way to get them interested in math,” he said. “They all had to do the math that puts that together. They have to figure compression ratios, cubic inches, and the formulas to do the cubic inches and the formula to come up with the compression ratio.”
Shirley said the engine will be moved to its future home within the next week. He has another project lined up for the class, with another sponsor. Sponsors are crucial, he said, because these projects can be expensive. The finished motor costs more than $10,000.
“It gets expensive to build one, and this is the kind of project where you’re waiting a year for it,” he said. “We’re down to 59 minutes in a class, and a lot of programs like this out of high school are four-hour programs, so they can do a lot more. But these kids have really loved it, and it’s really good for them.”
The automotive technology program is sponsored and supported by Hall County Board of Education, the Perkins Grant and Kia. It is National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation-certified, meaning students can graduate with industry certifications.
Shirley said there is a need for certified technicians. In the Southeast alone, there is a shortage of nearly 250,000 technicians, and many of his former students have gone on to careers in the automotive or racing business.
Regardless of his students’ chosen careers, Shirley said there’s a valuable lesson in the course for everyone.
“More than keeping the kids interested in automotives, it teaches them how to work,” Shirley said. “Not everybody that comes through here goes into the automotive industry, but they learn how to work, what’s expected and a lot of work ethic. This project is something that helped give them that.”