John Olinger has loved cars since he was little.
"I always wanted to be an auto mechanic," said the recent East Ridge High School graduate. He hopes to build engines for racing organizations like NASCAR or the National Hot Rod Association.
On Monday, he'll get one step closer to his goal when he starts classes to study automotive mechanics and racing technologies at the University of Northwestern Ohio -- a top school in the field.
But if it wasn't for an $8,500 scholarship he won last year when a group of East Ridge students went to a national automotive competition, he wouldn't have been able to attend the school, said his mother, Kimberly Olinger.
And the additional $8,000 he received by competing in the same competition again last week is also helping to finance his education.
Two teams from East Ridge High School came in third and fourth place when they competed at the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow national competition in Las Vegas last week. In the competition, the teams had to take apart and reassemble an engine as quickly and accurately as possible.
Each member of East Ridge's third-place team won $8,000 scholarships to Northwestern Ohio and two other top automotive schools, and each member of the school's fourth-place team won $7,000 scholarships.
The students, who take automotive class at East Ridge High, practiced constantly to prepare for the competition, instructor Rainey Horne said.
Not only did the teams practice Monday through Friday, he said, they also trained on weekends, during fall break and on a day when classes were canceled due to flooding.
"They were dedicated," Horne said.
Because an East Ridge team came in second place and set a world speed record last year at the event, expectations were high, Horne said.
"We had a lot of pressure on us," he said.
But since all the students received scholarships, "nobody seemed disheartened" with third and fourth place, Kimberly Olinger said.
The event was held during the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show, the world's largest automotive specialty product trade event. When the students were not competing, they met with the competition's sponsors, and companies treated the students like rock stars, Horne said.
"These kids getting to do this is incredible," he said.