The Team Vibrant Performance motorsports team from Roanoke County’s Burton Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) has won their third National Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Championship— they are officially the best student engine building team in the nation. They previously won the championship in 2014 and 2016.
The National Hot Rodders Championship is a major event at the international Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show each year. Motorsports professionals from around the world representing all forms of auto racing gather to do business in Indianapolis at the PRI Trade Show.
The BCAT team drove to Indianapolis for the competition that took place from December 5-8.
Three of the students on the team are from William Byrd High School: senior Ryan Lyles, senior Tanner Pruzan, and junior Cody Cline. Lyles and Pruzan are on the engine team; Cline is the alternate.
Other students on the team are tool man Garrett Abshire from Cave Spring High School, Matthew Carter, also on the engine team, from Cave Spring, and Ryan Towles on the engine team from Glenvar High School. Their coach is Chris Overfelt, Welding/Motorsports instructor at BCAT.
“It was a great week,” said Overfelt in somewhat of an understatement. “We won the PRI show, had the highest written score, won the fastest Perfect Run Cup, and won the national title.
“Our three-run average was 17:26 minutes,” Overfelt noted. “Our last two runs in the finals were perfect and they were both a 16:47 run.”
The team which came in second was over a minute slower.
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow is a nationwide high school engine building competition. PRI Magazine describes the competition as “the culmination of a year-long battle with events across the country for scholarship money and industry recognition— with 14 qualifying events in 11 states,” including PRI and Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) competitions.
The Dual National Championship features the top four teams from the SEMA show competing against the top four from the PRI show for “ultimate supremacy.” The competing teams are designated as the “Elite Eight.”
The National Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Challenge got its start in 2008 with five high school teams and 36 students competing. The winning time in the 2009 competition was 44:22 minutes. They describe the Championship event as similar to the engine tear down between rounds at a drag race.
Students must “properly disassemble the engine using hand tools only with detorque and disassembly procedure— air cleaner, carb, distributor wires, spark plugs, manifold, headers, lifters, rocker arms, push rods, timing chain, and cover; oil filter, oil pan, oil pump, and all eight pistons. The cam and crank remain in the block. The team then returns behind their bench, and when called back, begins working to reassembly once again with correct assembly procedure and torque specs, all the while being timed and viewed by judges and spectators.”
The engines are “identically prepared small block Chevys.”
Time added penalties for dropped components, improper disassembly, assembly, sportsmanship, etc., are added to ensure correct assembly. The engines when reassembled should fire up and run if gas, water, and oil were added. The team with the fastest time, including penalty minutes factored in, wins.
Team Vibrant Performance qualified in first place for the championship event with a winning time of 18:12 minutes at a competition in Cleveland this past March. They also took first place with a time of 19:17 in an event at Mooresville, N.C. on March 31, 2018.
While “Vibrant Performance” seems to describe the young men on the team, in fact the name comes from one of their sponsors.
Prestige for the students and program is not the only reward for winning. Students who place in first through eighth places also are awarded scholarships for thousands of dollars to three schools: Ohio Technical College, Universal Technical Institute (UTI), and the School of Automotive Machinists and Technology.
The three schools offer over $4.2 million in scholarship vouchers to those three schools to students participating in the Dual National Championship— amounting to about $10,000 per student to three different schools, sometimes more.
This year there was an additional prestigious honor for the BCAT team— they were one of only 12 motorsports team invited to display a vehicle in the Performing Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show in the PRI 2018 Display Vehicle Lineup. The BCAT team entered a 1928 Roadster— a drag car which students built in 2009 and run at IHRA and NHRA events.
School Board member Tim Greenway, who represents Vinton, said, “I’m glad to say this is almost a yearly event for us now. We have good kids coming through the program for sure, but with the consistency of these awards, I think it says more about Chris Overfelt’s leadership/mentorship. He comes to the board year after year, humbly I might add, with kids receiving awards or being recognized. We are so fortunate to have Mr. Overfelt in the Roanoke County school system.
“Burton Center is a treasure!” Greenway continued. “As a result, our kids are using BCAT more and more to find ways to get trade certifications for future employment. We need to find ways to expand programs such as this one.
“The long-term vision for Roanoke County schools includes providing students with real-world learning experiences,” said School Superintendent Dr. Ken Nicely. “The motorsports program is a great example of students being successful in an experience that will provide them many opportunities in the future. We are proud of Mr. Overfelt and our students.”
Overfelt says that the secret to winning the National Championship is “tons of practice,” and learning to save trips back to the tool bench— for instance, taking multiple items to or from the tool bench during the competition to minimize times.
He says another secret to success is “having a group of students willing to work together as a team.”
When choosing team members, he identifies students who are well-coordinated, precise in their use of tools, willing to work as a team, and able to communicate, although countless rehearsals for the engine challenge reduce the need for verbal communication.
The students have three engines to practice on at BCAT. They take one along to the Championship event to continue practicing as they await the competition rounds. In past years they even practiced in the rain. Overfelt says last year they put up a pop-up tent to practice under. This year they are traveling to Indianapolis by travel home with bus seats installed, hauling the Roadster on a trailer, so they will be able to practice inside.
There is a huge trophy case in the welding/motorsports area at BCAT that holds the schools many trophies from past years. There is also a display of the helmets they have worn each year during wear the competition. They now have another trophy and helmet to add to the collection.
Although there is no entrance fee, participating in the competitions is costly. Students raise funds through local sponsors.
Sponsors who made participation in the Hot Rodders Championship possible this year include Salem Hydraulics, Bassett Tools, Blue Ridge Diesel, M&S Automotive, Vinton Pawn Shop, Dominion Service Center, Affordable Portables, Mac and Bob’s, Biscuits and Bubbles, Tonies RV, Tim Maiden Automotive, Brown and Son Towing, Carter Towing, Lyles and Son Excavating, Renaissance Contract Lighting, Cutting Edge, the Odd Fellows Lodge, Ivy Croft, Weld Tech, Financial Recovery, Mike Atkins Construction, Dalton Construction, Trader Jerry’s, Certified Collision, Kings Hauling and Excavating, Family Chiropractors, Fat Boys Towing, RC Restoration, Scratch Biscuit, Walters Engines, Tommy Wagner Auctions, RM Construction, Bojangles’, and Mountain Land Machine.