The Automotive Technology Organization By– James Gross

The Automotive Technology Organization or ATO is SIUC’s automotive departments first registered student organization. ATO plays an important role in further developing skills needed in the automotive field beyond what can be taught in the classroom. We have project cars we build to compete in drag and autocross racing. Through these projects, students learn how to plan events, fabricate and rebuild components, and seek outside support for the program—all of which are important skills to have. Furthermore, students have the chance to compete at sanctioned tracks for Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), both of which are environments that facilitate networking and professional development. There is a saying in the racing world, “Winters make Winners”. Living up to that, we have been busy this winter preparing for competition.

This semester, we currently have three project vehicles. The first project vehicle the program ever had was a 1966 Chevy Nova which has been used to drag race since the mid-1980s. It has had several reincarnations over the years as students have worked to improve its reliability, speed, image, and safety equipment. The car has become so fast over the years that they have had to limit the car to two drivers who are both trained over the winter season on the skills required to keep such a powerful car from crashing. During the winter months, team members inspect the vehicle for wear or damage and rebuild components as needed. This semester, we have removed the engine to replace leaking gaskets so it can pass tech inspection. Through the process, students have a chance to work with modified racing components and tune drivetrain components for the racetrack. They compete weekly at Benton Drag Strip in Benton, IL.

Our second project vehicle is our 1994 Honda Del-Sol which we use for SCCA Autocross competition. The vehicle has been painted in previous years, and it has been modified with aftermarket adjustable coil springs and struts. The great part about this project is that the car is not heavily modified; it can still be operated by students with minimal training. When we go to a competition, we can have four students compete as drivers. The modifications we have planned for this winter are suspension tuning, a push button ignition switch, a four-point racing seat belt, and resealing leaking gaskets on the engine. This project teaches students how to tune a suspension to drive on a road course style track, and students learn the driving skills needed to control a vehicle through the twists and turns. They compete at Beacon Motor Speedway in Paducah, KY and Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, MO.

The last project we have for the semester is our Chevy C10 Pickup. This truck was pulled in from a field as a donation three years ago. This vehicle is in the process of being restored so that it can compete in drag racing. Currently, we have the body removed from the frame to perform rust repairs. The frame has been modified for strength by adding plate steel to box in the frame rails and new engine mounts to accommodate a late model engine. We have a Chevy LS3 crate engine with factory fuel injection and a racing modified turbo 400 transmission that are now sitting in the frame rails ready for wiring and fuel system plumbing to be installed. This project teaches student heavy fabrication and customization skills. Although some students may never get a chance to drive it, they will have the pride in knowing that they had a part in bringing the truck back to better than it was originally.