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Full-throttle class: Fifth-graders peek under hood of motor sports tech program
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When veteran race car builder Bud Hughes fired up the engine of a high-horsepower stock car Wednesday morning, the subsequent window-rattling roar had most of the surrounding fifth-graders plugging their ears.

But not 10-year-old Fausto Zavala, who grinned at the tremendous noise generated by the racing engine.

"That was cool," he said after Hughes, Lanier Technical College’s instructor of motor sports technology, finally silenced the car.

Students from Sardis Elementary’s fifth grade got a look under the hood of racing technology while applying classroom lessons this week in a partnership between the college and Hall County schools. The students used calipers, micrometers, dial indicators and other precision tools provided by Aurora Bearings and Etched Metal Co. to measure engine part sizes to the one hundred-thousandths of an inch.

Student Elliott Edens said the field trip made measurements more fun than the normal classroom setting.

"You get to look at different cars and study their parts," he said.

Courtney Allen, 11, already knew her way around a race shop because of a family friend who owned a stock car. She said if she or her classmates ever wanted to get into racing mechanics, Wednesday was a perfect introductory course.

"We’ll already know how to do it instead of learning it all over again," she said of the exacting measurements.

Hughes’ motor sports class, which focuses on the fabrication and maintenance of race cars, has graduated students who have gone on to work for world-class NASCAR operations like Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Racing.

Whether it’s the 50 or so technical college students he teaches or younger visitors to the shop, Hughes said he enjoys "seeing a lot of light bulbs go off."

Hughes credited Sardis Elementary’s teachers and administrators for adapting their lessons to match up with the cylinder heads and torque wrenches of his race shop.

"They went outside the box," Hughes said. "It’s going from the (classroom) board to holding it in their hand."

Sardis Elementary teacher Margie Reed said a number of the school’s students were already racing fans.

"They get to apply lessons to something they’re interested in," she said. "They’re engrossed in this; they really are."

Alexis Holcome, a 10-year-old who names Kasey Kahne as her favorite driver, was among those with more than a passing interest in racing.

"It’s really cool that you can hear and see how they make the engines," she said.

By the end of the two-hour visit, as Hughes asked if there were any more questions, Zavala’s hand shot up.

"Mr. Hughes, can you give me a job here?" he said. "I can test-drive the cars."