Marana automotive students Kevin Reich and Evan Cloutier got some strange looks from rival teams when they arrived at the annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills State Finals on May 3.

After all, it was the first time a team from Marana High School had competed in the event, one that judges students on their ability to accurately and thoroughly complete a repair order on a “bugged” car within a 90-minute timeframe.

Considered an underdog, Reich and Cloutier received some equally strange looks when they were the first team to successfully complete their repair order, start their vehicle, and drive out of the garage.

In fact, Reich and Cloutier completed the repairs so speedily that Marana automotive teacher Donald Zell, who trained them for the competition, did a double take.

“I saw them do it so fast, and I saw them shut their hood, and I said, ‘What happened, did they get disqualified?’” said Zell.

But Reich and Cloutier were anything but disqualified. 

In less than 42 minutes, the duo had fixed every bug in the car, which consisted of burnt out bulbs, wiring issues, missing sensor pins, and more. 

They finished 20 minutes faster than the next team.

Not only was the Marana team the first to finish their work order, they did so without earning any demerits for missed or flawed repairs.

“It was a perfect car,” said Reich.

The win didn’t come without a lot of prior practice in their automotive class under Zell, a retired automotive technician and second-year auto shop teacher at Marana.

“I had them train by basically doing an inspection on a car, and they had it down to about five minutes. In that five minutes, they could pretty much determine everything that was wrong with that car,” said Zell.

While most of the other teams worked on the same repairs together, Reich and Cloutier worked separately, allowing them to accomplish twice the work in half the time. 

The two had no problem keeping their nerves under control, either.

“Before we went out there, I told Evan that it was just us out there, and nobody else,” said Reich. “Just like if we practicing here (at Marana High School). It was me and Evan, and that was it.”

The training and strategy paid off when it was announced that Reich and Cloutier had taken first place out of the 10 teams competing.

“We both just looked at each other,” said Cloutier.

“It was jaw-dropping,” said Reich.

Zell was a little less surprised by the win, but nonetheless impressed.

“I expected it,” he said. “I knew they put in the time. I just didn’t think they were going to do it so fast.”

Four teams ran out of time before completing all the repairs, while most other teams had demerits against them.

Cloutier and Reich were chosen for the competition based on their scores from a 50-question test. As if destined to be partners, the two not only achieved the highest scores in their classes, they received the exact same score. 

Cloutier was struck by another interesting fact regarding the test – a fact that speaks loudly of the quality training provided by Zell.

“What beyond mystified us was that everyone who took the test in our class passed,” he said. “They all qualified (for state competition).”

Reich and Cloutier won scholarships valued at more than $35,000 for their win. The two will now prepare for the national competition, to be held in Dearborn, Mich., where they will face off against 49 other teams in a four-day competition from June 9 to 12.

“We’ll make sure we are ready, just like last time,” said Zell.

Cloutier and Reich both plan to attend college and pursue careers in the automotive industry.

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