WALLENPAUPACK - A passion that draws from the ability to be creative, has led two seniors from Wallenpaupack Area High School to the National Automotive Competition in New York City.
After winning the Pennsylvania Automotive Association Competition in Hershey PA, Andrew Avissato and Fred Petsche will go against teams from across the United States April 21, 22 and 23rd. Together, the duo will do diagnostics and pre-delivery inspections on a 2014 Chevy Cruze at the Javits Center, during the New York International Auto Show.
Both competitions are similar, where the students are assigned a vehicle that has been, “bugged,” and it is their responsibility to decide what the flaws are, in a set time frame and then fix the problems.
To prepare for the competitions, WAHS Auto Technician Instructor, Dr. Mark Watson has been working tirelessly with the students by “bugging,” vehicles to practice. For the first competition, B & B Dodge in Honesdale provided the students with a 2014 Dodge Dart to train on.
Nearly every night after school and some very early mornings before classes, the students arrived at 6:30 to practice for the competition. For the national competition, Hesser Chevrolet in Scranton provided the team with a 2014 Chevy Cruze.
In addition to fixing mechanical problems, the students will complete 10 workstations that account for 60 percent of the contest, and the work on the Chevy Cruz will account for 40 percent of the contest.   
This is the 13th year for the competition and it will be Watson’s fourth time attending the National Competition. He called the event an “unbelievable opportunity,” for the students because of what they will learn and possibly receive if they place as far as 11th. But ultimately, both Watson and the students agreed, its not about the prizes. Instead, they want to win.
    Avissato said he loves working on cars, because as a technician he can literally make his own car. He explained that by making the engine, the car is built to his satisfaction. By building a car, Petsche said it allows for a, “new way of being creative.” Avissato added that, “some people like to paint, we like to build engines.”
    Watson said he gets very excited for the competition because its, “real world,” and the students work on a 2014 car. Avissato and Petsche have some work to do though, as previous WAHS teams have placed ninth in 2004, sixth in 2008 and 11th in 2010.
    At the state competition, the students had 90 minutes to work on the car and 90 minutes at five work stations where they had to work on; brakes, alignment, steering suspension, electrical board and precision measuring. Whereas in New York, there will be three hours on the car and three hours at 10 stations. Neither student is too concerned with the time constraints. Instead, Petsche said they can do a lot in three hours. While, Avissato added that, “if you know what you're doing, the time restraint shouldn't really matter.”
When competing at the state level, Watson said it can be difficult as teams come from Pittsburgh  where there are more resources. But, he acknowledged that coming from WAHS, the district is “very committed to these programs.” He explained that the administration, parents and the community are supportive because they realize the importance of the trades.
    There will be prizes for the school, the students and the instructor. Compliments of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. WAHS could receive a Toyota and other educational resources, along with a trophy. Or, for the students, there are full tuition scholarships, Snap-on tools, apparel and trophies. Watson could even receive tools and apparel.
    If they win, neither student plans to take advantage of the scholarships as Petsche will be going to Penn State for mechanical engineering. While Avissato will be going to Kutztown University for criminal justice. Both students want cars to remain in their lives, with Avissato planning to have a garage filled with many cars.
Avissato’s brother Michael actually competed in 2010 and won a tool box, that Avissato would also like to win.
    For the competition, the students will need their own tools. Fortunately, when a WAHS team placed sixth in 2008, they won a tool box worth $4,000 that Watson keeps just for the competition.
    Watson admits, that during the competition he gets so nervous that he doesn’t watch the students, because he can’t help them. Not being able to help, Watson said kills him, and so during a lunch break the team discusses how everything went.
    The key to their passion, Avissato said is loving the field. Both students agreed that competing in the national competition is different than anything else they have ever done. Going to the Javits Center, Avissato said, “should be pretty awesome.”
Practicing on new cars, Avissato said has been like a brain teaser, because figuring out the differences was challenging. With each car having its own onboard diagnostic system, Petsche said they have to relearn a whole new car.
The practice, Petsche said has been essential in building their confidence. When practicing, the duo timed themselves and at the state competition they actually had five minutes left. Which, no other team had.
Two very dedicated competitors, Watson commends the students and their hard work. He said the competition is very, “real world,” and “whoever wins it, wins it.” The students, he said, fear nothing. Together, the duo are very strong and their hard work can equal success.
    Even though there is a chance, that there may be a flaw they aren’t ready for, Avissato said their confidence is important. Petsche added that, “you just attack it, like you attack anything else.”
    Considering who they are competing against, Avissato said winning first may be pretty hard. But, there is no need to get too excited about it. Going against the best from throughout the country isn’t an issue, Petsche said with a smile because, “we’re the best in Pennsylvania.”