MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Young gear-heads and grease monkeys who spend Friday nights working on their cars instead of going to football games now have a place to pursue their speedway dreams once high school days are over.
In an effort to get aspiring automotive technicians ready for a job working on stock cars, NASCAR broke ground Tuesday for a technical institute, a veritable MIT of motorsports.
"This is a school for motor-heads, the kids who are working in their garage at night getting grease everywhere and making their mom mad," said Tommy Baldwin, crew chief for Winston Cup driver Ward Burton.
"It's a tough business with long hours and we're looking for those kids who have a passion for this and are dedicated to this," he said. "They're out there, I know, because I was one of them."
NASCAR has teamed with Universal Technical Institute to build the $12 million, 140,000-sq. foot school that is expected to open in 2002.
Courses will last 57 weeks with 120 students per session. A new session would begin every three weeks, pushing maximum enrollment to 1,900 students.
The first 39 weeks of the program will focus on the core aspects of automotive technology and the remaining 18 works will be dedicated toward learning about NASCAR.
The Crew Chief Club, a group of Winston Cup crew chiefs which Baldwin belongs to, helped design the curriculum.
Students need to have either a high school degree or a General Equivalency Diploma, and be at least 18 years old.
Although the cost of the program has yet to be determined, UTI has six similar institutes - although their focuses range from motorcycles to general automobiles - that cost $18,600 for a 51-week program. Scholarships will be available
John White, chairman of UTI, said today's cars have more computers in them than early space shuttles did. The new technology has forced older mechanics out of the business and caused a drastic shortage everywhere from car dealerships and repair shops all the way into NASCAR.
"Don't call them mechanics - call them scarce," White said. "An auto technician today is akin to a computer technician and there is a shortage of them. Part of that is because of the complexity and part of it is because some people don't view this as a career.
"But it's a fact that you can make over $80,000 a year doing this and there are people bidding for students in the aftermarket."
Although the NASCAR Technical Institute will be the first of its kind, it's not the first place dedicated to training people for a career in auto racing.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held earlier this month for 5 Off 5 On Race Team Performance, a training facility for people who want to work in the pits.
That facility provides six indoor pit stalls and walls, practice cars and equipment, video recording, a team- and driver-conditioning center, and a choreographer to consult with pit teams.
"We are providing teams the facilities and equipment to advance their goals at a much more reasonable cost than building their own," said Breon Clark, operations director for the facility.
Like the NASCAR Institute, the 5 Off 5 On center will be located in Mooresville, a small town 25 miles north of Charlotte nicknamed "Race City USA" because of the estimated 100 different businesses located there related to auto racing.
"Race teams strive to hire the most highly skilled personnel available, and now their employees won't have to leave town to receive this specialized training," said Melanie O'Connell Underwood of the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce.