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Teen mechanics place second in skills contest
Riverton High School students Carl Booth, left, and Matt Johnson placed second in the 2012 Ford and AAA State Auto Skills Competition in Cheyenne. The students won more than $20,000 each in scholarships. Photo by Emily Etheredge

Teen mechanics place second in skills contest

Jun 1, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

When friends and classmates Carl Booth and Matt Johnson get together, they bond over Russian accents and an appreciation of cars. That appreciation led to Booth, a junior, and Johnson, a senior, placing second in the 2012 Ford and AAA State Auto Skills Competition in Cheyenne. The nationwide competition is for 11th- and 12th-grade students pursuing careers as automotive service technicians.

The Riverton High School students were given one hour and 30 minutes to fix a broken down 2012 Ford Fusion. The purpose of the exercise was to see how quickly the students could work under pressure.

"We basically had to work really fast to find the bugs in the car and diagnose them," Johnson said.

Under the direction of Tom Gopp, who teaches the automotive classes at RHS, Booth and Johnson won more $20,000 each in scholarships.

Fremont Motors in Riverton donated a Ford car for the boys to practice working on before the competition.

"We are so appreciative to Fremont Motors for giving us a brand new car to work with," Gopp said. "To let us a loose for a period of over 12 hours was pretty trusting on their part, and we are really thankful."

Johnson said that before the competition he was least skilled in electrical work on vehicles, but after working on the Ford cars he was more skilled and confident in electrical work.

The students said they mostly work on cars as a hobby and occasionally do automotive work for their friends.

"It really is a matter of finding enough time to work on a car, and when I do find the time, it is rare," Johnson said. "But I have always enjoyed finding a problem and fixing it."

Booth said he thought the competition in Cheyenne was something he was able to learn from, and although the problems were easy, he had to remain focused and remember not to get frustrated because of the time limitation.

"It really helped that I was doing this with a friend of mine, and we could communicate with each other as we worked quickly," Booth said.

Booth and Johnson have both been working on cars since they were kids and learned the tricks of the trade from watching their fathers work on cars.

"My dad used to have me go get the tools he needed to work on the vehicles, and from that point on I was hooked," Johnson said.

Both students said they thought the competition was a great time to be able to work as a team, and they learned things that will help them with automotive work in the future.

"It was nice to be able to put in effort and learn the value of teamwork," Booth said. "Having the opportunity to have a goal and accomplish something made the whole process worthwhile."

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