For Patrick Henry Community College’s (PHCC) motorsports program, the proof is on the track.
At South Boston Speedway’s NASCAR late model race July 20, the No. 73 PHCC car completed all 150 laps and placed third out of 21.
“We were even in first for a few moments,” said Jeff Fields, PHCC’s dean of Professional Technologies, Health Sciences, Accelerated Learning and Off-Campus Sites. “It came down to the last 10 laps.”
“It was very exciting,” he added. “I’m probably still hoarse. I went and watched the race. I was yelling pretty good the last 10 laps. This is the first year that we’ve really run consistently for a good long while.”
Fields credits the performance to both the skill of the driver, Bruce Anderson, and the motorsports students who built the car.
The students “build it, they maintain it, they crew it,” Fields said. “They do everything but drive it. It’s been a really good experience for the students. We’ve raced almost every race this year that South Boston has listed, so about every other weekend (the students are) completely busy.”
Anderson has partnered with the program, Fields said, and the partnership has proven mutually beneficial.
“He’s driven quite a bit and has lots of experience,” Fields said. “We provide the car and the crew, and he provides his driving expertise. He’s wonderful. He’s great with all of our students, he shares every bit of knowledge that he has with them. It’s been a really good give-and-take.”
PHCC’s motorsports program continues to grow, Fields said. The Virginia Motorsports Technology Center (VMTC), next to Arrington Manufacturing in the Patriot Centre industrial park, where much of the on-site training takes place, is frequently adding new equipment, he added.
“VMTC opened in 2005,” he said. “The whole motorsports program has been quite a growing experience. ... In the main (VMTC) building, we do the fabrication and set-up side, and then performance engines is in the Arrington building. We partner with them. ... Students get to see exactly what the professionals are doing.”
Arrington Manufacturing specializes in high-performance engine modifications.
According to Danny Glad, a professional engine technician and instructor in the program, when Arrington is looking for new employees, it first looks to the PHCC motorsports program.
“It’s a hidden jewel, this place,” Glad said. “With the faculty, and the equipment, and what’s available to us for real-world training, this place could be the Duke (University) of motorsports training.”
As an example of real-world training, Glad explained the intake manifold test.
For the test, an engine is connected to a dynamometer, which measures the force, torque and power of an engine. Students are shown a number of different intake manifolds, which supply the engine’s cylinders with the fuel-air mixture that powers the engine.
“The students will pick which (intake manifold) they want to put on (the engine) and what they think it will do,” Glad explained. “Sometimes they’re pretty surprised what it does.”
In the real-life applications, he said, the intake manifold that theoretically looks best in the classroom might not behave the way that students expect it to in practice.
“With these engines, it’s not all textbook,” he said. “Me and (motorsports instructor) Lou LaRosa have been doing this all our lives. He’s 62 and I’m 53, and we’ve raced all our lives for a living. There’s a lot of experience we can hand down.”
Fields said that other instructors in the program include Talmadge Thomas, who has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience and has been crew chief for the Woods brothers, and Denver Smith, a graduate of the program who has more than 20 years of experience.
“The college has been very supportive,” Fields said. “Of course, it costs money to race. But what the students are really getting back in experience, that’s priceless.”
“There’s no other program like this in the country,” he added, “where the entire program is motorsports. (Students) build the chassis, they build the engines, they install all the safety devices, they crew an actual car. ... There are some other (motorsports) programs out there, but this one is very unique, with all the experience the students are getting.”
For those interested in more information about the program, PHCC will host an information night from 6-8 p.m. Aug. 6 at the VMTC building, 67 Motorsports Drive.
PHCC President Dr. Angeline Godwin and several motorsports program instructors will speak. Students and alumni will be on hand to share their experiences, along with Anderson.
“As we grow and we market and we reach out to more students, it only makes sense that we have a good information night where we can get prospective students together and talk to them and give them tours,” Fields said. “We always give personal tours anytime anybody comes by and has questions, wants to talk to faculty, look at our equipment or talk to students in the program.”