Chan Drake has a need for speed.
He talks fast and likes fast cars, and year after year his students bring home trophies for fixing cars the fastest.
While Lincoln County High School is known for its football team, Mr. Drake has put Thomson High School on the map by coaching automotive repair teams to victory. He began his career as a youngster souping up hot rods, but his 20-year career in the Air Force as an airplane mechanic honed the skills he would eventually pass on to his students.
Thomson High School's two-member automotive team - B.J. Mauck and Lee Treadwell - won third place at the national Ford - AAA Auto Skills Contest this year. A self-described physical fitness nut, Mr. Drake compares his strategy under the hood with that of his game on the tennis court.
"I need to be focused; I need to stay back till I see an opening. Then I'm going to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses," Mr. Drake said. "If you do that all the time, it becomes a habit."
His students have won the state competition for 12 of the past 14 years and placed in the top 10 at the national competition five times in the past 12 years.
"We haven't found anything that beats diligence and effort," Mr. Drake said. "We work longer and harder than anybody else. We practice till we can't get it wrong. If you go in with that kind of work ethic, you are going to take the luck factor out of it."
Thomson High's team competed against the other 49 states and five countries at the national competition recently. The contest was divided into two areas: a written examination and a hands-on competition with students repairing cars that have been sabotaged.
Winning state can be a life-altering experience for team members, who win a $6,000 scholarship to Ford Community College in Spartanburg, S.C. Often, it is the break that will move his students into a high-paying career. Since he's been teaching at Thomson High, 24 of his students have secured scholarships.
B.J. is working at Bobby Jones Ford in Augusta, and Lee works at Willoughby Ford-Mercury in Thomson. They will attend Ford Community College in September.
Frank Lawrence, the owner of Bobby Jones Ford, describes Mr. Drake as "the most enthusiastic guy about young people you will ever meet."
"I've got six of his students here that we have taken and trained after school," Mr. Lawrence said. "They've got great careers ahead of them."
Mr. Drake is passionate about teaching, his family and his hobbies.
The front lawn of his Tudor-style Washington, Ga., home, which he and his wife, Phyllis, built, displays much of the family's car collection: a 1957 Chevrolet hardtop, a 1930 Model A Ford and a 2000 Chevrolet Corvette, a car they rode off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Ky. They even have the car's birth certificate.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.