The need for speed

Pictured, from left, are Waterloo High School automotive instructor Tony Biffar with Ryan Mathes, Emily Biffar, Larkin Nottmeier, Tanner Rosenkranz, Grayson Frenick and Griffin Stork. The Waterloo High School Hot Rodders team competed at the national level for the first time in the young history of the program. The team finished in the top 15 at the Performance Racing Industry Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Competition in Indianapolis. 

Members of the Waterloo High School Hot Rodders recently placed at the national level, making this the team’s best performing year in its short but strong history.

WHS automotive instructor Tony Biffar said the team placed 10th in its bracket at the recent Performance Racing Industry event in Indianapolis, Ind.

This means the WHS Hot Rodders currently rank at 15th in this year’s Hot Rodders of Tomorrow national competition.

Biffar said the team started just four years ago after a handful of students expressed an interest in the sport, which he explained seems to be not quite so popular in Southern Illinois.

“It’s a nationwide competition, but I had some students that I’ve talked to about it, I’d heard about it, and they said they wanted to do it,” Biffar said.

He explained the sport consists of the deconstruction and rebuilding of an engine – all in a little less than 30 minutes.

At the recent PRI event, the WHS Hot Rodders had an average time of 25:06.

“It’s a small block 350 Chevy engine that’s mounted on an engine stand, and you bring your own tools, and there’s five students that work on it, four on the engine and one that’s on the work bench organizing all the parts as they come flying off,” Biffar said.

Biffar further explained that, for those students hoping to make hot rods a big part of their future, the competition offers plenty of practice.

National Hot Rod Association engines, he said, need to be rebuilt quite frequently to put out their maximum horsepower.

This sort of experience has already proven useful for Ryan Mathes, a recent WHS graduate who was able to participate with the current team of high schoolers since the team qualified back when he was still a student.

Mathes currently attends Ranken Technical College, where he is studying cars and automotives. He one day hopes to take over his father’s shop, Shelby’s Automotive Repair in Waterloo.

While there are members of the team that play more traditional sports, Mathes added that working with the Hot Rodders has helped get him involved in an extracurricular activity he finds useful and interesting.

“This is more of a sport that’s for someone that’s more hands-on,” Mathes said. “Throughout high school and junior high, I was never really into basketball or baseball, anything like that. I was always more hands-on learning.”

Mathes and Biffar both also attested to the team element of the competition, as the five students working on the engine need to be in sync to optimize their time.

Biffar even described how another coach at WHS mentioned bringing his team in to watch the Hot Rodders so they might get a better idea of how to communicate and work together on the playing field.

“It is five kids that have to do this dance to do this quickly to be able to communicate everything that’s going on in their position so that the other students know if they need to speed up on their spot or slow down,” Biffar said. “It’s a huge communication sport. They have to truly work as a team of five.”

Biffar spoke highly of the team’s abilities and performance this year, pointing to their exceptional teamwork but also the substantial amount of practice they’ve put into it.

“The kids put in I don’t even wanna guess how many hours and hours of practice in the last year and a half getting ready for this, so it’s kinda cool,” Biffar said. “We’re always hiding in the corner of the shop and no one even knows what we’re doing.”

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web