Lake Norman & Mooresville

Motorsports classes rev up at CPCC

Aurora Mendoza hopes to catch the action at the new zMax Dragway@ Concord, not as a fan but as a race team member working on the bodies of Top Fuel cars.

Mendoza, 25, of Huntersville is well on her way to a motorsports career. She's already a stellar student in CPCC North's new certificate program in automotive technology, with a specialization in race-car technology.

Mendoza expects to graduate from the four-class, two-semester program, which offers hands-on training in fabrication and welding, and advance to CPCC's new eight-week Motorsports Institute in January.

“She's a phenomenal student,” CPCC motorsports coordinator Dave Bowen told me at the North campus on Verhoeff Drive last week. “She gets it the first time. I wish I had 10 like her.”

The certificate program is geared to students straight out of high school, although older workers are also in the program. It teaches the basics of welding and fabrication. “This is a foundation,” Bowen said of the program. “This is more of a basic skill learning.”

The Motorsports Institute will offer in-depth training in key motorsports technologies, including fabrication, welding, painting, decaling and assembly. Industry experts will teach at the institute, and graduates will learn enough to be able to handle entry-level jobs in motorsports, Bowen said.

CPCC students from the machining program at the main downtown campus already work for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams such as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Motorsports companies contribute to the CPCC motorsports training initiatives. Roush Racing of Concord donated a new Sprint Cup Series chassis for the training at CPCC North, and Hess Racing Products of Mooresville donated the chassis of a Hooters Pro Cup Series car.

CPCC intends to limit the certificate and institute classes to a dozen students. Classes are at night so students can hold their full-time day jobs.

The college also offers a motorsports seminar series for “weekend warrior” types interested in vehicle repairs and techniques, Bowen said. Students learn fabrication and decaling techniques hands-on. In 2010, CPCC plans to offer an associate's degree in race car technology, Bowen said.

Motorsports is a $2.4 billion industry in the Charlotte region. Bowen said 80 percent of all NASCAR teams are within a 50-mile radius of Charlotte.

Student Jake Onley, 18, drives to the CPCC North certificate classes from Fort Mill, S.C. Like Mendoza, Onley intends to advance into the CPCC Motorsports Institute.

He's enjoyed working on hot rods, muscle and other cars “about my whole life, mainly the drive trains, motors.” He'd like to work for a NASCAR Sprint Cup team. Like Mendoza and her Top Fuel dream, he's already on his way.