WALLENPAUPACK - Endless hours of training, along with determination has led two Wallenpaupack seniors to earn the title of the best automotive technicians in the country recently.

A few days after placing first in the National Automotive Technology Competition at the Javits Center in New York City, Nick Hamer and Cory Prisco still didn’t feel as if their success was real, because to be the best in the nation is “crazy” said Prisco.

But yet, after it all, both Hamer and Prisco said the experience has been “life changing” because of how much they learned over the course of several months, as they trained with their instructor Dr. Mark “Doc” Watson who readied the young technicians for a competition that introduced them to many opportunities and set them up with full scholarships and costly prizes.

Before it all, the duo weren’t familiar with one another, having only had a few classes together. But, after receiving the highest score on an in-house test and going on to train for the state competition that they won, they got to know each other better, because Watson forewarned them that they would have to work hard in order to be the best.

Some days the young technicians started before classes, only to stay after school and return and work till 9 p.m. All the training, while worth it, the pair said it was tiring. Prisco said the duo “kept at it” because they were “determined” knowing what was at stake, the idea of the recognition and making their parents proud, especially Prisco’s dad who taught him so much when working at the family’s shop in Lords Valley.

As for Hamer, he said it was his liking of the industry and “messing with cars” that kept him driven, because he wanted to be the “best in the nation.”

Third time in 5 years

The team knew what to expect though, because Watson has helped students compete for years. Hamer and Prisco are the third team from WAHS to achieve the title of best technicians in the country, the third in five years actually, and nine WAHS teams have won state titles too. Because of Hamer and Prisco’s win, WAHS is only the second team in the history of the competition to have won for two consecutive years, since WAHS won last year too. To win for the second straight year, that was “wild” said Watson.

According to Skip Wagner from the Pennsylvania Automotive Association (PAA), WAHS is the only school in the state to win the state competition nine times. While not definite, Wagner believes Watson is the only instructor to win the national competition three times. Out of Watson’s nine times competing in the national competition, his students placed: 11th once, ninth twice, sixth twice, fifth once and first three times. Without question, Wagner said Watson has made a name for himself, Wallenpaupack School District and PAA, making WAHS the “team to beat.”

Having grown up helping his dad at the shop, Prisco said he was confident in his abilities and he believes he is the “definition of a car guy.” When they went for the state title, the duo was prepared to fix a 2019 GMC Acadia, in part because they practiced on the same car lent to them by Schwarz in Honesdale. Plus, Watson created “bugs” similar to what prior WAHS teams encountered at the competition, such as blocking sensors that wouldn’t set a code off, but would affect the car’s functioning.

The difference between reality and the competition for Prisco, was that the duo had to reference a computer to figure out the issues, whereas he would normally just go to the car and find the problem and fix it. Having to work that way, made for a “learning curve” he said.

The state competition was similar to the nationals, with multiple workstations that included: alignment, electrical and more to address problems with the car. The duo placed first with the workstations at both competitions. But, at the nationals, after nearly three hours of working on the car, little time remained, so “going by the book” was out the window Prisco laughed at, which led him to “rip the car apart.” The duo though, did find all of the bugs. If they weren’t at the competition, Prisco said he could’ve fixed the car in an hour because the process differs that much.

The first bug threw the team off, because all of the batteries were removed from the keys, which required time to determine the right batteries for their key, since there were other teams with the same issue. At that point, Prisco said it was a “madhouse” at the competition.

A real-world competition, the duo faced issues found at auto shops, such as a blown fuel pump that posed a challenge for the young technicians who trained on a 2019 Nissan Rouge lent to them by Tom Hesser Nissan. To fix such an issue could cost as much as $800 said Hamer, but they stimulated similar situations without causing such damage.

Tackled nightmare car

Because of experiences in prior competitions, Watson wasn’t excited about the car and he called Nissan a “nightmare.” Hamer and Prisco though, “tackled the car.” Watson believes the duo could’ve had any car and they would’ve done well because of their skills and how much they wanted to win. He expressed appreciation to Schwarz in Honesdale and Tom Hesser Nissan for their support and lending the young technicians cars to train on.

Competing at the Javits Center while a car show was going on, was a “little nerve wrecking” according to Prisco, because they could hear their competitors’ cars starting, but struggled at times because the manual was in Japanese. Hamer said he wasn’t able to stay calm throughout the competition, while Prisco too was panicking a little.

Prior to the competition, Prisco was set to attend the Universal Technical Institute for the core automotive program. Now, he has a full scholarship with plans on studying automotive, diesel and Lexus which is “really cool” he said. He would like to one-day work at a Toyota or Lexus dealership as a service manager in the south.

Hamer has different plans, since he will be going to the Maine Maritime Academy to work on engines and later join the Navy.

Stress reliever

For Prisco, he said working on cars is a “stress reliever” because he likes to build cars since it allows his visions to happen as he makes the car how he pleases.

Hamer enjoys working on cars because he is able to turn his “brain off and turn a wrench” which is “fun” he explained. There’s just “something about getting your hands dirty” that he likes.

Because the time invested in training is a “long process,” Watson said he tries to ensure fun is had by all, with the support of parents and the community helping too. Time is essential, and while it may take the young technicians time to realize the significance of their commitment, in the end when they walk away with the prizes, he hopes they can look back at this experience and be proud of what they accomplished. For Watson, he acknowledged that he likes trophies and to say the WAHS technicians are the best in the country, is the true prize.

Despite having won two times before, Watson was still amazed that Wallenpaupack won because many of their competitors were from career tech schools and colleges, so that alone is something to be proud of and it’s a testament to the Wallenpaupack School District’s commitment to career education and the automotive program he said.

Recalling the long hours, the three laughed at some of their stresses along the way, such as the time Prisco decided to go skiing or Watson had to call Hamer because he overslept. From the lessons he learned, Watson said future students may not have to start training quite so early. As for Prisco, he may have learned what it means to be punctual. Looking back at these times, both Hamer and Prisco laughed, while Watson smiled.

Having taken part in the national competition for years, Watson believes it was Hamer and Prisco’s confidence that helped them succeed. Both though, he considered to be good problem solvers which is essential in the field since cars are so technical. Watson called Prisco and Hamer “special,” because of their abilities to address a little of everything, solve problems and work together, which set them up to be winners.

Both Hamer and Prisco expressed great appreciation to Watson, for his continual commitment in preparing them, because they know that time will help them in their futures.