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Two from Central driven to succeed
Students intern in auto industry
Blake Michal, a junior at Forsyth Central High School, stands next to a Porsche at Motor Werks Racing in south Forsyth. Michal interns at the company as part of Central’s automotive technology program. - photo by Autumn McBride

While many youngsters dream of a career on the fast track, a Forsyth Central graduate and current student are literally living it.

Nicki Burger, a 2009 Central alumna, and Blake Michal, a junior at the school in Cumming, are both enjoying internships in the racing field.

Both Burger and Michal participated in Central’s automotive technology program as a path to what instructor Marlo Miranda called “dream job” experiences.

Burger will finish an internship with the Richard Petty Driving Experience later this month. She’s learning how to be a race car pit crew member.

Michal is working as an intern at Motor Werks Racing in south Forsyth. The shop works exclusively on Porshe products.

Jeff Nesbitt, Michal’s supervisor, said the shop does everything from “normal maintenance to full custom and race work” for owners of the German vehicles from all over the country.

“Blake’s on the cusp of working with the elite of the elite at just 17,” Miranda said.

But his teacher isn’t surprised. He said the junior, who’s been in the auto tech program since his freshman year, is one of the best of his students, as was Burger.

“Kids like Blake and Nicki are the ones who have guts to go try things and take risks,” Miranda said.

Michal was among 40 students who applied for the Motor Werks internship at the beginning of the school year. Miranda said the selection came down to Michal and one other finalist.

While the other student waited for the shop to contact him, Miranda said Michal “started calling Motor Werks every day” to see what was going on with the position.

“Because he went that extra step, he ended up getting the job,” Miranda said.

The instructor said Burger had similar drive when she was enrolled in the program.

“Nicki was the only the girl in the class, and at first the boys just pushed her aside when it came to working the engines,” Miranda said.

“But then she pushed them out of the way and said, ‘No, not only am I going to work on the engine, but I’m going to do it better than you.’ And she did.”

Burger’s known she wanted to do something racing-related since childhood, when she participated in quarter midget racing at the Cumming Fairgrounds.

After graduating from Central, Burger enrolled in the motor sports vehicle technology program at Lanier Technical College’s Oakwood campus.

Through the program, she could take time to participate in an internship and was accepted into the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Like her high school days, Burger said she’s the only girl in the Lanier Tech program, to which she’ll return to when she finishes her internship, and one of just two women in the pit crew training.

“It was difficult at first, but since I was the only girl my junior and senior year at high school, I had gotten used to it,” she said.

“Now the guys in the [pit crew training] are all like my big brothers. They were kind of surprised when I learned to say stuff back to them and speak up for myself.”

Michal didn’t have any problems speaking up for himself in his internship.

He wanted the job so badly he gave up his position on the Central football team in order to take it. The job’s hours would have conflicted with practice.

“It took a while for me to make that decision,” Michal said. “But I knew this [internship] was something that would impact my future career, so I had to made that choice.”

Making an impact on students’ careers is the main purpose of the auto tech program, which began in 2005, Miranda said.

“We’re here to train them to be in the field ... ready for successful employment in the automotive field or post secondary automotive education,” he said.

While Michal and Burger are working in one of the industry’s elite areas, Miranda said since it began, “we’ve got over 100 kids [from the program] working in the field.”

“You’d be hard pressed to go to any shop in town and not see someone from our program,” he said.

The students and graduates work everywhere from dealerships to tire and oil change businesses.

And unlike 40 or 50 years ago when anyone with just a small bit of mechanical knowledge could work on cars, things are much different in 2010, Miranda said.

“These jobs are high tech today,” he said. “There’s a big focus on electronics.”

He said a national program that gives high school students aptitude tests recently found that students who will be successful in the modern automotive field tested similarly to students who show aptitude in engineering.

“We all need our cars and the kids in our program are finding great career opportunities and learning opportunities,” he said.
Burger and Michal are among them.

Michal plans to go to Georgia Tech to become an engineer in the auto industry, while Burger wants to continue in some capacity with racing.

“I just really enjoy working on cars and as long as I can work in racing somehow, I’ll be happy,” she said.