First place winners Nick Camarata and Adam McAlister with their teacher and coach, Michael O'Hara. Courtesy photo.

A pair of Riverhead High School seniors won the L.I. Auto Tech Competition, earning $25,000 each in scholarships and advancing to the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association state finals, which take place next week.

Adam McAlister and Nick Camarata, both 17, study auto technology at the H.B. Ward Technical Center in Riverhead under the tutelage of Michael O’Hara.

They will compete against winning teams from New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties in the state competition. The winner of that competition will go on to the national competition at the N.Y. International Auto Show in April.

O’Hara paired up Adam and Nick as a team for the L.I. competition. They were one of two teams from H.B. Ward to participate in the competition. The other team from H.B. Ward, Harvey Edwards and Shane Hampson, took third place. They, too, earned $25,000 scholarships, which are awarded to members of the top four teams.

The teams had 15 minutes of time at each station at the competition to diagnose and fix the problem. The problems covered a wide range of issues on engines including HVAC, electrical, brakes, alignment, transmission, inspection, battery testing and charging, There were other stations that involved more of paperwork types of tasks. These included estimating how long a job might take, reading and understanding service manuals and interpreting error codes.

Nick and Adam worked on a BMW, correctly diagnosing and fixing pre-programmed bugs in the shortest time.

At the state competition, the top three teams from each region will work on cars that have been “rigged” to have several issues wrong with them. Nick and Adam will again be working on a BMW — the model was selected in a drawing.

“O’Hara has given us a great advantage that will really help us in the competition by taking us to the BMW plant in New Jersey,” said Adam.

“We have a good chance to do well at that competition,” Nick said.

Over the years, O’Hara has trained approximately 12 regional first-place teams, three winning state teams, and two national championship teams.

O’Hara credits his outstanding record to several factors – the high level of commitment from his students; the extensive time he spends outside of traditional school hours preparing his classes; and to the relationships with dealers he has developed, which allow him to either borrow vehicles or bring students to manufacturer facilities for training.

“My students are just as dedicated to this program and their own success as I am,” O’Hara said. “They put in a great deal of hard work after hours to properly train for this event, and it shows.”

Nick and Adam are lifetime friends, having first met in kindergarten. Not long afterward, they discovered that they both had a fascination with how mechanical things worked.

Nick said he’s been “taking stuff apart all his life.”

Adam concurred, explaining how they progressed from “bicycles to quads and then eventually to cars.”

Adam plans to continue studying diesel engines. Nick, however, said, though he loves working on cars, doing it on a daily business to earn a living doesn’t appeal to him after all.

The auto tech competition, now in its 30th year, is sponsored by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, which supports auto tech education.

“There are tens of thousands of auto tech jobs coming open in the coming years and New York’s franchise new car dealers fund the competition to identify auto tech stars of the future,” the association said in a press release.

“Auto technicians today have increasingly specialized technology skills to fix the high-tech cars being produced. The curriculum for the competition is adjusted annually to respond the changing automotive technology.”

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April Pokorny
April is a writer, reporter and copy editor for the LOCAL news websites. She is a retired educator and proud grandma. April lives in Calverton. Email April