Students in Allan Hancock College’s automotive technology program aren’t too young to remember the late drag racer Blaine Johnson.
“I used to actually watch his races,” said Troy Showalter, a 22-year-old Hancock student who recalls seeing the Santa Maria native race before he was killed in a crash in 1996.
Most students know the name because a sign above the shop dedicates the space to the Blaine Johnson Memorial Foundation.
Much of the expensive machining equipment the students use was also donated by the foundation, which has given well over $400,000 to the program and college scholarships since its creation by Johnson’s family in 1997.
To give back, a group of students decided to build a car engine from scratch, and then auction it off to benefit the memorial foundation’s annual golf tournament.
“They do so much for this auto shop” said student Kevin Strawder, 28, of Santa Maria. “What better way to show our appreciation than to show them what we have learned? Unfortunately, what happened to Blaine was a tragedy. We wouldn’t be able to do this without (the foundation).”
A core group of five students has been working since the summer to build a hot-rod Chevy 350 engine they say can fit into just about any vehicle.
Besides Showalter and Strawder, the group includes David Fletcher, 23, of Lompoc; Arthur Olivo, 32, of Santa Maria; and Tom Yee, 26, of Santa Maria.
Yee called the engine the group’s “masterpiece.”
Most students in the group decided to build the engine as part of a special projects course, in which students typically work alone.
Donations were raised to pay for the $2,200 in parts needed, and students dedicated more than $1,300 worth of labor whenever they could find the time.
Strawder would work a graveyard shift and then came into the shop to work most of the day.
“We’ve learned a lot,” he said.
The students say they hope to make the auction an annual event. Their engine went for $2,100 during the auction last week.
Hancock auto technology instructor Patrick McGuire said the market value of the engine was around $4,500. He added that the students still got a kick out of the fact that their engine went to Shawn Langdon, a drag racer currently on the team of Blaine’s brother, Alan Johnson.
“The big thing is this was their idea; I tried to talk them out of it,” joked McGuire, explaining the impressive amount of time they gave to the project. “What they really get out of it is craftsmanship, teamwork.”
Johnson was killed when his engine exploded at the finish line of the 1996 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. He was 34.
— Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.