Students to work on real NASCAR racer

With five of his classmates surrounding him, Terry Ross squatted down at the front driver's-side wheel of the car.

The machine-gun rattle and whine of his air-impact wrench screamed through the school's two-well garage as Ross quickly removed each of the five lug nuts.

If you shifted your imagination up a gear, you could easily visualize that scene in a crew on pit road at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Like many of his high school classmates, Ross realizes that working on a genuine Sprint Cup car is like attending NASCAR fantasy camp.

But thanks to a partnership between Tire Kingdom and Kyle Beattie Racing, members of Northwest Cabarrus High's automotive technology classes get to live that fantasy. Last month, they donated to the class a race car formerly driven by NASCAR driver Jeff Burton, so that students could train on advanced equipment.

It's safe to say that it's Northwest Cabarrus' first classroom laboratory that can travel at 175 mph.

"A car like this has a lot more stuff and details to it than a regular car," said Ross, a senior. "So I will probably learn more from this car than an ordinary car."

Kyle Beattie, a Northwest Cabarrus High alumnus, studied in the school's automotive technology classes in the early 2000s. He and his race shop, Beattie Racing Inc. in Locust, field various styles of race cars and compete at many levels of racing.

Beattie's crew chief, Neal Cantor, is also a product of Northwest Cabarrus' auto shop classes.

Mike Porter, Northwest Cabarrus' automotive technology instructor, said he first received a phone call about the donation from Beattie's mom, Gwen, at the end of the 2010-11 school year. Tire Kingdom had owned the car and lent it to Beattie Racing, which used it as a show car. Gwen Beattie followed up with Porter at the beginning of this school year, and the shop presented the car Sept. 15.

Beattie Racing also donated a Burton-autographed hood, which the class has on display but may auction off to support the school's Career Technical Student Organization.

Typically, the automotive classes operate on cars owned by students, their families or Northwest Cabarrus staff members. Students primarily study and work on brake and electrical systems.

During a recent class, Porter handed his students a worksheet that gave instructions on examining certain brake components. Half the class worked on a 2002 Chevy Tahoe, while Ross and fellow seniors Michael James, Destiny Peterson and Aspen Hinzman and juniors Colby Holder and Casey LaJoie worked on the race car.

"The suspensions are different, and it has a bigger engine than most normal cars do," said James. "But the components are very similar to what you would see every day, and I didn't know (it would be like that)."

Holder said he's interested in graduating from college and becoming an engineer for a race team. He said working on a race car now may provide a window to what the "real world will be like in the future."

Race fans may recognize LaJoie's name. He is the son of former two-time Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, and Casey LaJoie knows his way around a race car.

"It's definitely an older model," said LaJoie. "We pretty much have the same car as this (at home), except newer. I definitely see where it can be improved. I can help Mr. Porter along the way if he wants to get this thing rolling."

Porter said the race car can be driven, but said it will never leave the school's parking lot. In the long term, Porter said, the school plans to use it as its own show car, putting it on display with a possible Northwest Cabarrus black-orange school color scheme at parades and homecoming games.