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Students headed to national competition for auto tech after winning states

John DeLuca and Evan Wagner raced through the atrium of the Center for Automotive Education and Training in Whitestone, Queens, last month performing different automotive tasks — air conditioning work, vehicle inspections and engine measurements — and troubleshooting diagnostic problems.

The teenagers, who are students at the Academy of Applied Technology at the Ward Technical Center at Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Riverhead, were participating in the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association regional competition, held Jan. 12. They needed to complete about a dozen tasks and had just 15 minutes at each station to do so.

In the end, the duo had outperformed 32 other competitors and claimed first place.

“They’re hardworking and they excel,” their teacher, Mike O’Hara, said. “To do these competitions right, a lot of training goes in. These guys stepped right up to the plate and they did it. I’m proud of them. They did real well.”

The win qualified the 17-year-olds for a place in the state competition, which was held Feb. 14 at the same location.

“They bugged the car to put different problems in it,” John said. “We had to find what the problems were and record it on a work order. It had to be extensively filled out, like we had to write exactly what we did. We had three hours, but it was way too much time.”

John, a senior at Shoreham-Wading River High School, and Evan, a senior at Eastport-South Manor High School, won first place and scholarship money at the state competition and are now eligible to compete at the national level in Manhattan in April.

Both students, who are in their second year of classes at BOCES, have paid internships in the maintenance departments at local dealerships — John at Riverhead Toyota and Evan at Porsche of Southampton — and get to work on cars that arrive at the shops. Evan was even able to service Jerry Seinfeld’s 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder.

Evan Wagner (from left), teacher Mike O'Hara and John DeLuca with their first-place trophies Feb. 14 at the state competition. (Credit: courtesy photo)
Evan Wagner (from left), teacher Mike O’Hara and John DeLuca with their first-place trophies Feb. 14 at the state competition. (Credit: courtesy photo)

Mike Hamill, the service manager at Riverhead Toyota, said John works two days a week during the school year and full-time over the summer.

“He’s a great kid,” Mr. Hamill said. “He’s got a great work ethic. I wish I had 10 of him.”

The boys agreed that the experience they had at both school and work has more than prepared them to bring home a first-place trophy at nationals this spring. That competition will include tasks they performed at both regionals and states.

“We trained so much it was like a walk in the park,” Evan said of past competitions, adding that he’s confident he and John will get their third win. “We know the stuff because we do it all the time.”

Mr. O’Hara said winning nationals could also provide the seniors with a free ride to college to continue their automotive training, a dream come true for both of them.

“Ever since I was little I was fascinated with pulling things apart and seeing how it worked,” Evan said. “My cousins are big into cars, so it inspired me to get into the auto field.”

“I’ve always liked cars,” John echoed. “There’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Top photo caption: John DeLuca (left) and Evan Wagner work on a car at the Academy of Applied Technology at Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services’ Ward Technical Center in Riverhead. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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