HICKORY – A local college automotive club is focused on getting to the finish line first in an endurance race next spring.

The Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) Automotive Systems Tech Club recently began preparations to compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons endurance race in April in South Carolina.

The event is part of a nationwide series of endurance races restricted to cars that were purchased, fixed up and track-prepped for $500 or less. Each team must have  four to six drivers.

While it's a real race, its focus is mostly on the fun of preparing and teams simply driving their creations as long as they will run.

“It’s real racing… You're not going to set any speed records," 24hoursoflemons.com says on its website. "It's kinda like a loud, hot, noisy version of driving to work, for a really, really long time."

For CVCC students, it’s also a chance to gain some practical experience.

“You’re putting hands on it and actually getting something to the point where it can compete from something that has been given to you,” first semester student Eric Fowler said.

CVCC is entering the competitiion for the first time. The school got a Ford Crown Victoria donated to them for the race from the college’s Basic Law Enforcement Training program.

A trip to Kershaw, S.C., to see a 24 Hours of LeMons race back in September helped the students get an idea of what they could expect on the track.

“They’ve pretty much got (the car) gutted, and they’re ready to just get the roll cage ordered and installed,” CVCC Automotive Systems Lead Instructor James Roane said.

The vehicle is in pretty good shape already, Roane said, with just some suspension work and other minor issues in the car.

“It’s such a long race," Roane said. "You’re looking at a minimum of six hours on the first run with driver’s changes and you have to hope the car will actually live for six hours."

While the race is meant to be a fun club activity, it still ties back in to what the students are learning at the college while providing practical experience.

“There are eight areas of automotive service excellence which include engine performance, heating and cooling, electrical, engine repair, transmission and brakes,” Roane said. “Basically, what’s going to happen is they’re going to use almost all of those areas during the build of the car.”

The club will turn to the welding shop at CVCC to help with the roll cage fabrication.

“The brakes are going to have to stand up for six hard hours, so we’re going to show them the different things on performance brakes application,” Roane said. “Suspension and steering is going to be a big thing. We’re completely set up to do those, wheels and front-end alignments.”

The race also gives the students a chance to put their work to a more realistic test because of the endurance aspect of the competition versus just driving a vehicle around the block after a repair.

Justin Reeves is the club president and he's enrolled in the automotive program at CVCC. He likes the idea of the club project allowing students to pull all the various skill sets they’re learning together at one time, on one vehicle.

“All of us are in different classes," Reeves said. "You may have a class that’s brakes, a class that’s suspension, a class that’s engine repair and for students just starting out they may only be in an intro class.

 “By working on this car, they’re getting more experience on more issues than just being in their specific classes.”

At some point, all the members of the club look forward to working in the automotive industry after completing their studies at CVCC.

“The approach here is the same," Jamie Fullen, club treasure, said. "You’re going to work on anything with the highest ethics you have. The difference is the real world application, that this (car) is going to be pushed harder than a car that comes in for an oil change or brake change.”

The club is still looking for potential sponsors and additional funds to help cover some of the costs to race.

Anyone interested in learning more about the program or how to help contact Roane at jroane@cvcc.edu or call (828) 327-7000, ext. 4234.

For more information about the race visit 24hoursoflemons.com.

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