Car show pumps up auto program

Published March 8, 2007

Twice a month, the back parking lot of Nature Coast Technical High turns into one of the most popular places in Hernando County - thanks to a car show that features wicked rides from all over.

On Feb. 23, the show drew nearly a thousand people because of a super-star vehicle on loan from Ring Power Corp. of St. Augustine. The company is an enthusiastic partner of the show, according to Kevin Moglia, who is in charge of Nature Coast's automotive program.

The big draw is known as Cat Chopper, a motorcycle built on the cable show American Chopper. Commissioned by the Caterpillar Tractor Co., parent company of Ring Power, it's unique among bikes and tours the country at rallies and shows.

Corporate recruiter Kym Hogan, who visits Nature Coast frequently to hand-select promising students for various training programs, said the bike is constructed like a Caterpillar construction machine.

It has familiar Cat components including grade 8 bolts, proprietary hardware, sprockets, bucket teeth, and a Track-Type Tractor exhaust. It looks like Easy Rider meets earth moving equipment, right down to the characteristic Caterpillar yellow color.

Not to be outdone by the touring cycle, local car collectors brought out everything from a '65 GTO to a nitrous-oxide injected golf cart that's way too fast for any course on this planet.

The air was heavily perfumed by burgers and foot-longs flipped on the grill by culinary arts students. Young car jockeys helped park cars and manage the crowd.

Moglia and his assistant Dan Murphy came up with the car show idea in the middle of last school year to pump life into an automotive program that had begun to flag.

Apparently, the crowd loved the Chopper, and equally as apparently, Moglia's plan to stir up interest is working.

In days gone by, teens cruised Main Street or the local drive-in restaurants or movie theaters in every town across the country. But with safety concerns, traffic issues and modern times, says Moglia, those days are gone and kids are missing out.

"I wanted to offer the kids something of their own to do on Friday night, like we used to," he explained.

The $1 admission fee helps cover auto program expenses through the year.

"We take the kids on field trips, to enhance their learning experience," Moglia said. "But when bus transportation costs can go up to a couple thousand dollars, you need to find a way to help the budget."

Kids rally around the shows and Ring Power adds to the excitement by bringing out some heavy equipment a couple of times during the school year.

For kids with a passion for cars and engines, Hogan said the automotive program can be a tremendously exciting and successful career path.

She points to 2005 Nature Coast grad, Cody Kretzer, about to graduate from Ring Power's training program.

"I'd bet he'll end up in management in our Tampa location," Hogan said. "We look for kids who have a good attitude, work hard and show up on time. He does it all."

Moglia's point of view, from a 35-year automotive industry background, is the car shows let kids hang out and have fun.

But the underpinnings - mingling with local business people who might hire technicians in the future, hooking up with a major company training opportunity, and networking - will secure their future.