Valentina Du Pond
Three cars are lined up at the start of the Barona Speedway. A white car with the number five plastered on its side is positioned at the front. A black car with the number three is behind it. And behind both is a white 1999 Honda Civic, painted white with sponsoring Sombrero Mexican foods across its hood and the bold number 527 on its side. Talk show host of the morning show DSC Chris Boyer sits in the driver’s seat of the 527 car, handicapped a quarter lap behind the other drivers due to his greater experience driving. All the cars on the speedway had been worked on by their drivers, but Boyer’s crew was different from the rest. The car he would be driving was worked on not by him, but by Bonita Vista High auto shop students.
“We were up in the stands, and the guy sitting to my right above me leaned down and patted me on the back and said, ‘You guys built that with high school kids? Good job,’” National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence-Certified Auto Shop Teacher Ben Hazel said.
The summer after the 2017-2018 school year, Montenegro and three other BVH students, senior Kyra Mack, and graduate Alfonso Olivos were invited by Hazel to work on the mechanics of Boyer’s car to prepare it for racing at the Barona Speedway Celebrity Race on July 28.
The car had been donated by an old friend of Hazel, Eric Evans, and was designed to be a tribute car to the original race car driven by Boyer in 1999. The car from 1999 had also been modified and maintained for racing by previous BVH students.
“We started our own team, and we built the car [at BVH] in 1998. It was always white, always a Cheval, always had Sombrero Mexican foods across the front of the car,” Hazel said.
The tribute car was revealed to Boyer as a surprise on the day of the Barona Speedway race.
“When [Boyer] showed up, the car was in an enclosed trailer. Then we did a reveal just like on television. Chris came up and pulled the thing down, and there we all were with a two thirds side version of his old Cheval,” Hazel said. “So it was a lot of fun.”
Hazel mentioned that they had previously told Boyer he would be driving a different model. At the race they surprised him not only with the tribute car, but also with the old crew Hazel and Boyer used to work with as well, wearing Hawaiian shirts in the style of ones they wore in 1999.
“It was an incredible surprise and a real honor. The car that Ben and the students had put together for me was a tribute car that they built for me to race at Cajon Speedway in 1999. They had the same sponsor package on the car, the same number on the car, the same color, the same graphics, it was really really well done,” Boyer said.
The process of working on the car took two months. Hazel reached out to students after he received the car from Evans, who installed safety equipment within the car. After that, the students did the rest. To make it lighter, they first emptied the car of any parts not necessary for it to run, such as the air conditioning and headlights. Then they installed safety equipment, worked on the engine and finally tested it to run.
“It was actually a long process, it took three tries to get the car to start, and after we got it to start the first time we couldn’t get it to start the second time,” Mack said.
The students worked five evenings on weeknights and two full weekends on fixing the car over the summer, where Hazel instructed them on what to do.
“I want to say the role [Hazel] played was sort of like a boss, not in a bad way, but ‘This is what we need to do, this is how we’re gonna get it done,’” Montenegro said.
The students took an hour drive to Barona Speedway the day of the race. Before the race, the students set up the car. During the preparation, the students checked the airbags and seatbelts, added new decals and checked the battery. After, they looked at the other cars that would be racing.
“The cars looked nothing like the cars we see on the road, hollowed out, painted and beat up,” BVH alumna and former BVH auto shop student Victoria Uratani said. Uratani had been invited by Hazel and the participating students to watch the race.
Boyer said that based on his previous race with a BVH student built car, he was not hesitant on racing the Honda.
“It was such an easy car to drive because it had been thoroughly thought out, I was able to drive it with one hand. A good race car communicates with the driver, gives plenty of feedback and is generally really easy to drive, you don’t have to fight it. If you have to fight the car something’s wrong, and that car was just perfect,” Boyer said. “I had every expectation of [winning], because I knew who built the car, I knew that it was designed and built to win.”
The students who worked on the car watched the race from the stands. Despite starting a quarter lap back behind his opponents, Boyer crossed the finish line first, nearly lapping the other contestants.
“We all believed in it, so we knew it was gonna win, we just knew,” Mack said.
The four students who participated were the most involved with the Auto Shop course. Montenegro had taken it for two years, one period his junior year and two periods his senior year; Mack took it last year as a junior and is taking it this year as a senior. Olivos could not be contacted.
“Going into that race introduced me to an activity that I would really like to be a part of in the future, something I could see myself doing in the future and enjoying,” Montenegro said.