Home Trade school Hendrick pays homage to long-standing automotive technology and sparks a new breed

Hendrick pays homage to long-standing automotive technology and sparks a new breed

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HANAHAN, SC — Kelly Brandt’s love affair with DIY began at a young age. It’s stuck with him ever since.

“I’ve always been intrigued by vehicles, by mechanical things. I took my toys apart when I was a kid,” says Brandt, a 43-year-old Wisconsin transplant who now lives in the Charleston area. “We had go-karts and dirt bikes when we were kids, so we liked to take them apart and put them back together, make them faster. Snowmobiles, you name it – if there was a motor, I was interested.

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Fits on toys, go-karts and off-road motorcycles have naturally evolved into wrenching on cars. “It continued from there,” says Brandt, who started working in a dealership service department while still in junior high school.

Some 25 years later, Brandt’s passion for all things automotive is also his career. Brandt is the technical crew chief and shop foreman at Rick Hendrick Chevrolet in Charleston, reaching the pinnacle of skill in his trade as a world-class General Motors technician.

Hendrick’s automotive group and motorsport activities will intersect this weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin at Darlington Raceway. But before Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) goes green, the NASCAR industry plans to recognize outstanding employees within each team’s partnerships in the Workforce Appreciation Weekend, a closely related initiative. on Labor Day.

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Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet team and driver Kyle Larson will begin their Cup Series title defense by paying tribute to Brandt for his 16 years of dedicated service to the automotive side of Hendrick. Brandt will serve as an honorary pit crew member for the No. 5 team this weekend, and he has already made an impression on the motorsports side as the 2017 winner of the Randy Dorton Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown.

His role has meant overseeing technology operations, but it has also led to mentorship opportunities for the next generation of automotive technicians – another shared value that aligns with Hendrick’s focus on STEM initiatives. So it was only natural that Brandt would be on hand Friday when Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels joined several Charleston-area dealerships to present a $25,000 grant to the automotive technology program at Hanahan High School, a nudge needed for the new breed to learn the trade.

It’s already a Labor Day with a special meaning.

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Slogans painted in the hallways of Hanahan High read, “Through these gates the hawks soar.” When a deep blue #5 Camaro with genuine Cup Series rolled through the doors of the high school’s tidy automotive service bay, the spirits of eager students enrolled in automotive technology studies also soared.

Educator David Van Maanen talks to a local television station about the automotive technology department at Hanahan High School (SC)
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” It’s big. We’ve never had anything like this at our school,” says David Van Maanan, Hanahan’s automotive program director. “So it’s exciting. You should have seen the kids’ faces every time the car came out. They bombed the window, and I couldn’t have stopped them. It’s just fun. It’s good It’s all kinds of surreal.

Van Maanan — affectionately nicknamed Mr. V by his students — has some context for what happened in Hanahan’s auto shop. He graduated from school in 2011 and he turned his experience with the automotive technology program into a job at a Chevrolet dealership. When his former teacher retired a few years ago, he asked if his former student was interested in being his successor. Van Maanan jumped.

Now, Mr. V’s efforts are given a spark, through the “Hendrick, Get Set.” Go!” grant program. Van Maanan said the funds will be used to update the school’s equipment, helping its students keep pace in a field where technology is constantly changing.

“It’s so important, and it’s really great to be part of a company that is committed to trying to open the doors for these children and develop them in the future of our automotive industry,” says Brandt. . “When we bring these kids here, with the kind of experience they get here before they even go to technical schools, they get a really good foundation. But what I love about the kids here is that a lot of them are passionate about cars. And that’s the first step.

Passion mixed with intrigue soon after Daniels opened the hood to reveal the engine of the #5 Chevy. The students had already pored over the car’s exterior details, but here Daniels – as a mechanical maestro with a championship pedigree – was delivering a masterclass.

“All relevant questions – every one of them,” Daniels said of the hands-on interaction. “It was impressive to me. For example, my own experience with the kids I went to high school with, they would never have been able to ask some of these questions. So these kids already have a good knowledge base , it was cool to see them being so excited about it, because the only way to be passionate about something is to know a little bit more. They had relevant questions, which means they knew.

Kelly Brandt's name on the door of Chevrolet #5 at Darlington Raceway
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The groundwork for these more specific questions had been laid at an assembly of nearly 150 Hanahan students focusing on STEM studies – science, technology, engineering and math. At Hanahan, about half of them are concentrated in automotive technology studies.

The trappings of a high school auditorium were all present – balloons in school colors, a stage and a projection screen among them. What wasn’t there was the usual twiddling of thumbs and blank stares that school assemblies sometimes produce.

Kyle Larson alongside the No. 5 Chevy in the workshop of the Department of Automotive Technology at Hanahan High School (SC)
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“I didn’t feel that vibe at all, which also makes it more fun for us to see the energy they have and what they bring to the questions they ask,” Larson said. “We signed a lot of autographs, took a lot of pictures, so it was a good interaction for everyone, and I think it’s going to have a lasting effect on these kids. Who knows, you might reshape or shape their path. careers.

Signed hats went around and shared selfies were tossed around on social media as the tour drew to a close. In the case of a student, Daniels was called upon to autograph a shoe – an unusual request, but which the team leader complied with before the student put it back on his foot.

Their Labor Day ties will continue to grow on Sunday at Darlington, where Brandt, Van Maanan and a select group of Hanahan students will experience the racing side of the automotive spectrum as guests of the No. 5 team.

“So the connection of all of that to me is quite powerful,” says Daniels, “because yes, there is a parallel with running that is relevant if someone wants to go down the path of running but at the same time, you can have a fantastic career, make a lot of money at a great place that is a Hendrick dealership and have a huge impact on the bottom line of the dealership and set yourself up really well.

“For me that’s a very powerful formula to be able to teach students, hey, yes if you want to get into racing, great, but it doesn’t have to be racing. You can come and work for us “You’re going to be a huge part of our business and yes, our focus is on selling cars, but it’s so much more than that. And to have a family like Hendrick behind them like that is pretty cool.”

Group photo of Kyle Larson and automotive technology students in the automotive technology department workshop at Hanahan High School (SC)
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