Flowing Wells High School senior Monty Miranda has been working on cars since he was 5, and plans on doing so until he retires.

The 18-year-old reached the high point in his fledgling career by teaming with classmate Ivan Rodriguez to win a title at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills State Finals on May 3 at Glendale Community College.

“When I got there, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Miranda, who works at an auto repair shop. “I thought it would be an extreme challenge, but because we were so well prepared we did pretty well without trying too hard.”

They both won $29,900 in automotive trade school scholarships and will compete in the national finals June 8-10 in Dearborn, Michigan.

They can use their scholarships at schools including Glendale Community College and Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix.

Miranda’s passion for auto repair began when he was too small to reach the gas pedal with his feet. He remembers scampering around a garage to help his grandfather and dad tinker with cars. He would fetch tools and help out by using his small hands to reach inside tight spaces.

Since his earliest days, Miranda has been soaking up automotive knowledge like an oil rag.

“When I can’t figure something out, I either ask my instructor or ask my boss,” he said. “I’m always learning, and don’t mind learning something new.”

Rodriguez didn’t start working on cars until the auto class piqued his interest. Now he has found what he expects to be a lifelong career.

“I enjoy knowing how it works,” he said of car repair. “I like to figure things out and get satisfaction in knowing how a car works.”

Miranda and Rodriguez both credit automotive instructor Jerrad McMurrich for preparing them to succeed at the state competition. Both have been in McMurrich’s class all four years of high school, and live where auto repair is king.

The five-mile area surrounding the school has 189 automotive shops, and nearly every student in McMurrich’s program ends up working in the industry.

McMurrich has his students take on all aspects of car work, changing tires, rebuilding engines and installing brake pads. The students run their own repair shop from the school, using proceeds for pizza parties, supplies and travel expenses to competitions.

The state event called for the students to diagnose hidden problems in vehicles. They were judged on speed and accuracy.

McMurrich credits his students’ calm, collected demeanor for helping them succeed.

“They work really well as a team,” he said. “They are like a yin and yang. When one stresses out, the other is usually calm about it. They’re able to lean on each other, and the judges were most impressed with that.”

McMurrich said he focuses on the process rather than results.

“I never expect anything except for them to do their best, win or lose,” he said. “I deserve to see their best because I give them my best.”

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com