March 18, 2010

Shaping the minds of today's youth is not a task to be taken lightly. The results may not be evident today or tomorrow, but down the road, it will have a significant impact on both the individual and the nation as whole.

While the vast majority of high school graduates gravitate towards traditional collegiate institutions, students seeking careers in the automotive industry will find far fewer centers for higher learning. Thanks to its far-reaching advertising in television and radio, the Universal Technical Institute and Wyotech schools have become quite popular. However there is another option for those who are hoping to make a living in the automotive industry-one that fuels the soul with a combustible, high-octane mix of engine theory, machining, assembly, and probably most important, hands-on testing.

The School of Automotive Machinists (SAM) started out in Judson Massingill's garage, where a number of his friends requested his help in building their engines. From there, working on engines took him to employment at a machine shop that he eventually bought. Northwest Engine and Supply served the greater Houston, Texas, area and beyond, as Massingill often found himself building engines for marine applications in addition to auto racing. "We had some customers who had a lot of money and would pay Judson to go to the races," says SAM Director Linda Massingill. "He started teaching some customers small things to help them diagnose problems so he didn't have to fly out. In addition to that, two of Judson's long-term employees wanted to branch out and start their own businesses." At that point, six employees had already left to do the same.

"All I do is teach everyone what to do and then they leave. We should start a school," said Judson. Linda agreed, and the machine shop helped subsidize the school for a few years until the school took off. A handful of core customer projects remain to this day, which helps introduce new applications to the students, but the main business is the school.

"We started out with about 30 students the first year (1985) and were given approval by the Texas Education Agency as an official school in 1989," says Linda Massingill. The school also received accreditation status and approval by the Department of Education, enabling the students to apply for student loans and grants. SAM is also approved to train eligible veterans.

As things change in the industry, SAM adapts the course curriculum to the demands. The school started out with a block class, and added the cylinder head class shortly after. After expanding both of those classes, the school recently added an automotive engine/CNC machining course to the program.

SAM is not just some building where you learn to operate milling equipment. While that aspect is part of the curriculum, the School of Automotive Machinists is teaching the science of speed. You'll set down the hammer and screwdrivers and become proficient with the calculator and various mathematical equations that help you build both a better understanding of the internal combustion process, and a better engine as well.

To this end, sudents participate in various activities, such as the racing program and Engine Masters Challenge. "Wyotech and UTI paid for some big sponsorships on NHRA and cup cars," says Judson, "and I wanted to build a car, run it ourselves, and have the students do all of the work. We started with a '99 Camaro. I wanted to get a Mustang because we want to show that it's not Chevys, Fords, and Chryslers-they're all just air pumps to us. If the heads move air, then it's a good engine."

SAM's Mustang debuted at the 2005 NMRA season opener in Bradenton, Florida, and qualified Third in the competitive Hot Street class. It went on to win the Maple Grove, Pennsylvania, event that year, set a national elapsed time record, and has been a top contender in the class ever since.

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