Even though the pandemic put a glitch in their plans, Waterloo High School students finally got their chance to compete in a Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Competition, six of which secured their team’s spot at the national level.
As WHS auto shop teacher Tony Biffar explained, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow was started by a group of experienced mechanics years ago.
“They have small block Chevy engines that are all identical, and the competition is what team can pull them apart and put them back together the quickest. If you do it in under 33 minutes at one of the smaller events, that qualifies you to go to either Las Vegas at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show or Indianapolis for their big car show to compete at the national event,” Biffar said.
On May 7, two WHS teams competed at one of the qualifying competitions at Champaign. The Performance Racing Warehouse team composed of Emily Biffar, Grayson Frenick, Ryan Mathes, Larkin Nottmeier, Tanner Rosenkranz and Gavin Stork, completed the competition in 32 minutes and six seconds, securing them a place at one of the national competitions.
Biffar said it is not clear whether these students will compete in Las Vegas or Indianapolis yet, or how many teams they will face there. So far, it appears fewer teams are qualifying than in past years, and there are fewer qualifying events being hosted.
He also said in the past, the fastest 30 teams get first pick on where they will compete nationally, and because the competition held in Las Vegas is in November and the one in Indianapolis is in December, the top teams from the Las Vegas competition may compete against the top teams from the December event.
Because of COVID-19, the recent Champaign trip was the first time any of these six students competed at a Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition. Many had been working toward this goal since they were freshmen or sophomores, Biffar said.
“During COVID, this got completely shut down and this group of kids kept coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, we want to keep practicing,’” Biffar said. “So when we had school for half days, I got permission to let them come in (and practice) while a lot of other kids took advantage (of the schedule) and sat at home and did very little. These kids – the team that qualified – came in at least one day a week from like noon to 3 p.m. and kept practicing.”
The pandemic also forced Biffar to find creative opportunities to allow students to showcase their craft. For the first time, the students performed a demonstration in front of a crowd at the Monroe County Fair over the summer.
“It’s kind of like practicing your sport for a whole year and never getting to play a real game, so that was a real game I could put them in,” Biffar said.
The students are not taking their feet off the gas now and will use all the time they have before nationals to further prepare, Biffar said.
This process, he said, has already started.
“My daughter is on the team and today when I just came home from school she was like ‘Dad, I found some more runs on YouTube. Let’s watch some more videos on YouTube of teams that have set world records.’ We’re studying different strategies to improve our time to be competitive at the national event,” Biffar said.
He said the ultimate goal for nationals is simple.
“I want to win,” Biffar said. “I don’t want to just go. I want to win.”
The community has two chances to see the team in action before they depart for Las Vegas or Indianapolis: this Saturday’s Firebird Fest in Waterloo – which the Waterloo Optimist Club is helping with – and Sunday, June 5 at the Waterloo Optimist Car Show.
The students will also be helping at these events, Biffar said.
“The Optimists have been incredibly awesome,” Biffar said. “They paid for all the kids’ hotel rooms this past weekend in Champaign, and we’ve helped them for years now with their car show, just helping them serve food and judge cars. But now we’re going to have the opportunity to help entertain. So it’s feeding each other, and we’re really excited about that.”