Students excel in auto-repair contest


POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

“;Gentlemen start your engines ... if you can”; is the motto for the National Ford/AAA Auto Skills Competition.






        980 Lahainaluna Road

        Lahaina, HI 96761

Phone number


        Michael Nakano




        Ka Leo Luna


Faculty adviser
        Shanda Sasai


        Kelsey Fortey




Lahainaluna auto skills instructor Dennis Sasai has been participating in this competition for the past 12 years. Seniors Jonathan Agapay and Dean Justin Badua joined Sasai as Lahainaluna's 2009 team and competed against five other state teams on April 25 at Leeward Community College: two teams from Maui High and one each from King Kekaulike (Maui), Waimea (Kauai), and Kaimuki.

Sasai's students haven't taken lower than third place in the last five years; four of them were second-place finishes. In 2004, Jesse Bakke and Casey Kawaguchi secured the state title, and Bakke and Keith Molina brought home the sixth-place trophy from the national competition. With this track record, it is no surprise that Sasai worked extra hard to prepare this year's team for the state competition.

Training for the written exam began in October. Sasai also conducted two weeks of intense after-school sessions for the practical portion.

“;It was stressful, and it took a lot of determination and dedication,”; Agapay said.

Sasai agreed, saying: “;You have to be committed. In this contest you can't go in halfway. You go in or you don't go.”;

This problem-solving competition forces teams to think on their feet and have an abundant amount of automotive knowledge.

“;I try my best to expose the students to every system on the car,”; said Sasai. “;It's hard to know exactly what to work on because we don't know what to expect until we get there.”;

Mimicking what would occur in a professional situation, students receive a work order, a write-up of the car's current condition, and a paper much like a chief complaint form detailing a patient's symptoms when visiting the doctor. There is only one chance to diagnose and repair the vehicle, and the state of the car is unknown until the clock starts, making this contest unlike usual competitions where participants are notified of what to expect or a specific area to study. It is never just a dead battery, faulty spark plug, or blown fuse. Contestants must know a wide array of automotive topics; they must understand the functions and purpose of every car part from bumper to bumper.

To enter the competition students must take a state qualifying exam. The two students with the highest score become the team and the result counts to 40 percent in the state finals. Students take part in the “;hands-on”; competition by working on a new Ford vehicle, this year's car being a 2009 Ford Focus.

Before competitors arrived at Leeward Community College, each car was uniformly “;bugged”; so that each of the teams faced exactly the same problems to repair. A perfect car with a fast time is the goal. If students close the hood without a perfect car, each remaining “;bug”; is counted as a demerit.

This year, Lahainaluna closed the hood first in what Sasai called “;one of the hardest competitions”; he's seen, with a time of 52 minutes; 14 minutes before any other team. The previous year, Sasai's students Lake Casco and Jayson Probst also closed the hood first with a time of 28 minutes.

“;Waiting for the judges was the hardest part,”; said Agapay.

Unfortunately, the team placed second after Maui High but didn't leave defeated or regretful.

“;It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would definitely do it again,”; said Badua.

While the goal of this program is to prepare students for jobs in automotive technology, Sasai has seen different results,

“;In my experience it develops character,”; he said.