Four Marylanders will be fighting for their schools this weekend, but not in the usual high school sports. They will be drag racing at Maple Grove Raceway against champions representing schools from Virginia to the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
David Keyton of Severn, John Semiklose of Waldorf, George Huff of Westminster and Corey Hess of Taneytown are track champions of a program developed by the National Hot Rod Association to encourage high school students to become interested in automotive-field careers.
The program began in 1986 as the NHRA saw a need to get more young people into the automotive field as an occupation. Although cars are becoming more complex, the number of qualified people to work on them has declined. The NHRA decided to assist high school students by establishing a series in which they would compete against other students, with the schools sharing in the rewards of winning. NHRA tracks set up elimination races leading toward a champion at each track.
Keyton, who won his title at Capital Raceway, had left school as a ninth-grader. Then, realizing the need for an education, he returned to enter the Phoenix Program at Chesapeake High in Anne Arundel County.
He got into drag racing this past summer and, with the help of his father, built a 1971 Camaro with a modified 307-cubic-inch motor. As a tuneup for the championship races, Keyton competed against the weekly racers at Capital last weekend and took second place.
Keyton is planning to use what he has learned in both school and on the drag strip to become an auto mechanic.
Semiklose, of McDonough High School in Charles County, is president of his junior class and has made plans for a career in computers after advanced study at Charles County Community College and the University of Maryland. "I've been into it [drag racing] all my life," he says. "It fascinates me." With increased use of computers in cars, he sees a natural mix of his two interests.
This weekend, his interest is focused on his '81 Chevrolet truck with the 305-cubic-inch motor.
Huff comes from one of the top families in Maryland racing. His uncle Ray and his cousins Mike and Steve have been winning drag-racing championships for years. The 1990 South Carroll High School graduate has prepared a 1966 Ford Fairlane with a 351-cubic-inch motor.
For Huff, racing will be a strong interest, but not a career. His family owns Huff Brothers Lumber, and he is learning the business from the bottom up.
Hess, a senior at Francis Scott Key High School, started the year with no experience in racing. With some help from local racers Chuck Taylor and Charles Spellman, he and his father turned his 1977 Mustang II into a race car.
Hess said that after he finishes high school, a career in automotives is a possibility.