Having been chosen as one of five schools nationwide to participate in the second High School Vehicle Build Program launched by Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School automotive technology department is now feeling the pressure of a fast-approaching project deadline. 

By the end of the school year on May 30, the total customization overhaul of a 1997 Jeep Wrangler Sport -- which was donated to the school in February by SEMA -- must be complete.

After a successful launch of their 2018 pilot program, SEMA has granted SYVUHS students an opportunity to participate in their 2019 Vehicle Build Program. The money raised will go towards the school's automotive department. 

According to Chicago-based tire sponsor Atturo Tires, last year SEMA gifted Santa Fe ECO High School's auto shop class a 2015 4WD Jeep Wrangler Unlimited along with interior and exterior accessories, which they modified and auctioned off for $56,175.

Given the program's first-year success, a second year was rolled out -- and only five schools were chosen.

SYVUHS was one of them.

"We got picked out of 150 schools nationwide, which is pretty cool," said SYVUHS automotive technology instructor Rob Hill. "Though we've got an older model to modify, the advantage is that there is less electronic stuff that we would otherwise have to mess with."

Hill said that by the end of next month, he and his team of 20 students will have completely changed out the Jeep's wheels, tires, suspension, gears, bumpers, grill, fender -- and more.

"It's a complete customization project," he said, adding that his students have all been very engaged in the nearly three-month project.

The aim of the program is to offer students real-world, hands-on auto-tech skills and engage them in the customization lifestyle, focusing on suspension, wheels and tires, and interior and exterior accessories, according to the SEMA website.

Connecting high school automotive shop classes with specialty-equipment manufacturers’ products to build one-of-a-kind customized vehicles, the educational campaign provides participating schools with donated aftermarket products from their partnering sponsors like Atturo Tires.

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Marketing Manager of the tire company, Joe Gomez, wrote in an email, “We’re proud to partner again with SEMA this year to help foster and educate the next generation of automotive aftermarket enthusiasts and specialists."

Gomez explained that four of the five schools chosen this year received five of their Trail Blade BOSS tires designed for hardcore off-road drivers.

"The tire features incorporate a “kurki”-style knife blade as the oversized tread lug to help battle through deep slop by forcing debris from the center of the tread," Gomez wrote. 

Once Valley students transform the Jeep, it will be put on the seller's block. Proceeds from the sale will go directly to fund the purchase of another vehicle to support a build for the 2020 school year – making the program a self-sustaining one.

Hill said once they've reached the May finish line, their vehicle will go up for auction sometime in June. An exact auction date and location are yet to be determined by SEMA. 

With high hopes that their suped-up vehicle will do well at auction to finance next year's vehicle build program, the busy automotive instructor, both excited and anxious to wrap it up, said, "We're pretty lucky. This is an amazing opportunity."

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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