Marana High teacher Don Zell, left, helped guide students Evan Cloutier, center, and Kevin Reich to an auto-skills championship victory.


Marana High School senior Kevin Reich says he has a hard time concentrating in the classroom, but it all clicks when he's in the auto shop.

That click led to well-tuned humming May 3, when he and classmate Evan Cloutier won the 2013 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills State Finals at Glendale Community College.

They flawlessly fixed various problems on a 2013 Ford Focus SE in 41 minutes, 57 seconds.

Cloutier and Reich received scholarships ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 they can use at various automotive-focused trade schools. They'll also represent the state in an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Finals at Ford World Headquarters June 9-11 in Dearborn, Mich.

"I want to work on cars the rest of my life," Reich said. "I'm one of those people who likes to figure out how things work, and cars are just full of those things."

Reich and Cloutier both plan to attend Glendale Community College and work in the automotive-repair industry.

Cloutier, an 18-year-old sophomore, said he and Reich spent 24 hours practicing in the two weeks leading up to the competition.

"I'm really happy that we won, because it means all our practice and everything we've done has truly paid off," he said.

Their teacher, Don Zell, who oversees a 150-student program at Marana, said he was not surprised by their success.

"These guys are good, and I expect them to win," Zell said. "I feel they had the talent all along, the focus, certainly, and the teamwork and communication."

Ten two-student high school teams from around the state competed at the event. Hung Dinh and Robert Wineinger of Flowing Wells High School placed second, finishing their repair, without flaws, in 88 minutes.

"Any time they can become a team, we relish in the moment," Flowing Wells teacher Jerrad McMurrich said. "We endure as well as we can, being able to work together and communicate in stressful situations."

The Flowing Wells area has 189 automotive shops within a five-mile radius. McMurrich estimates that 96 percent of his students in the last five years have entered the car repair industry. He currently teaches 112 students.

The competition pressure did not get to his students.

"I feel that we did the best we could and were quite prepared in the little time we had," said Dinh, an 18-year-old senior who plans to work his way through college at auto shops.

Wineinger, also an 18-year-old senior, said he was pleased with the competition.

"I feel great about it," he said. "I tried my best."

He said he spends his time doing body work on a 1971 GMC pickup and hopes to open his own auto shop one day.

No matter how well they perform at nationals, Cloutier and Reich can be proud of how well they did at state.

"I feel we've done as good as possible," Cloutier said. "We really were our best that day."

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or