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AST Group Makes Most of Chance to Learn from Technicians at Petty's Garage, LLC

By Rob Goldberg Jr.
PCC Media Relations Director

NASCAR legend Richard Petty, center, looks over the engine of a 1968 Dodge Charger with PCC's Juan Velosa, Steve Curtis, Richie Alligood and Hurey Renwick, left to right.

WINTERVILLE—For a group of Pitt Community College students and their instructor, spending three days at the former race shop of legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty last month was the experience of a lifetime.

From June 16-18, Automotive Systems Technology (AST) students Steve Curtis, Hurey Renwick and Juan Velosa joined part-time PCC automotive instructor Richie Alligood at Petty’s Garage in Level Cross. There, they worked alongside and learned from some of the best technicians in the automotive customization and fabrication business.

PCC AST Department Chair Norman Lilley says the group was the first from PCC to train at the NASCAR Hall-of-Famer’s shop as part of a partnership forged between the college and Petty’s Garage, LLC, in 2012.

Lilley says the Petty partnership has increased student interest in automotive service careers and led to unique training opportunities on campus for students in his program, such as restoring a race car Petty drove to victory in the 1981 Daytona 500.

In addition to the internship experience, PCC’s agreement to serve as an “education affiliate” of Petty’s Garage has included scholarships for Pitt students, tours of Petty’s customization shop, promotional support from Petty, and potential job opportunities for AST graduates.

“We’re continually seeking new ways to enhance instruction for our students,” Lilley said. “The Petty internship last month gave our group access to one of the greatest and most successful race car drivers of all-time and his technicians, some who have worked for him for more than two decades.”

For the 60-year-old Curtis, who will complete his associate degree this summer, the time spent at Petty’s Garage will not soon be forgotten. “It was truly amazing,” he said. “I’d love to do it again.”

A fan of stock car racing since the 1970s, Curtis got a chance to reminisce about NASCAR’s glory days with former Petty crew chief Dale Inman during his internship. He and his fellow students also met with Petty each day of their visit.

Despite the 77-year-old Petty’s lofty accomplishments on the race track – 200 wins and seven championships – Curtis said ‘The King’ is “really down-to-earth.”

“You’d think with all of his success that he’d be big-headed,” Curtis said. “… But he treated us very well, almost like we were old friends.”

Velosa, a native of Venezuela, agreed, saying, “I never knew somebody could be that famous and that cool at the same time.”

Though the Pettys have been producing performance vehicles since 1949, Petty’s Garage wasn’t established until 2008. Technicians at the high-performance shop provide complete custom solutions—everything from heavy fabrication and custom painting to custom floor pans and roll cages—to both new and old cars in the very same buildings that previously housed Petty’s racing operation.

“They don’t have these kinds of shops in Venezuela,” said Velosa. “(Petty’s Garage) can do anything for a car—from bottom to top. They can even make a car if they want to.”

Along with Renwick, Velosa spent much of his time at Petty’s Garage working on a 1968 Dodge Charger that now belongs to Richard Petty’s grandson, Austin, who is the son of former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty. The car sat idle for 16 years, so the students gave it a complete brake overhaul (replacing the master cylinder and brake hoses and fabricating new brake lines), replaced the gas tank and added soundproofing material.

Curtis spent a good deal of his internship rewiring a 1964 Ford pickup. He also realigned the truck’s chrome trim and learned from Petty’s Garage technicians and Richard Petty himself that there is always a best way to perform each task in order to produce an excellent result.

“It was great information, as they explained to us why they do things a certain way,” Curtis said. “Richard Petty … pays attention to the little details, things you never would have thought of, like washers going on a bolt in a particular way. There is a reason for it, and the small things add up to make a great car.”

Velosa said he was amazed by the willingness of the Petty technicians to stop what they were working on to provide instruction to he and his fellow students. He said he was given the opportunity to weld an aluminum part while being coached by a technician and, though he didn’t know it at the time, supervised by Petty.

“(Richard Petty) looked at my welding, took his sunglasses off to get a closer look and then turned to me and said, ‘Keep going,’” Velosa recalled. “I felt so good when I heard that.”

Lilley said he was amazed by the access his students were given to high-dollar engines and customized parts. “Anything they wanted to work on, they allowed them to work on,” he said, adding that the internship gave the PCC contingent an educational experience they couldn’t have received any other way.

Curtis, who says he will apply the knowledge he learned at Petty to his efforts to restore a 1970 MG, said it was an honor to work with and learn from the technicians at Petty’s Garage.

“Even though we worked every day from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and were not getting paid, it was the best fun I’ve ever had,” he said.