By Klaire Tan
On a 2.86-mile-long stretch of track in Thunderhill Raceway last September, 216 cars stood waiting in neat columns of six. The 24 Hours of LeMons race was about to start, and a new Guinness World Record for Most Participants in a Car Race would soon be set.
In the midst of the competition was a lemon-yellow pick-up. With Buzz Lightyear peeking from the passenger seat and Woody hanging from the tailgate, the car could have been the Pizza Planet delivery truck straight out of “Toy Story.” In actuality, the car had been sitting in Gunn’s own Auto shed just a year earlier. “We just had this old pick-up truck, and we decided to do something with it,” Auto teacher Mike Camicia said. “A student said ‘why not the Pizza Planet truck?’”
Auto students set to work rebuilding the car in early 2014 with the 24 Hours of LeMons endurance races in mind. The truck was replaced inside and out, from its engines to the transmission to the little details that come from “Toy Story.” “Check out the T-Rex,” senior Eddie Jiang said, referring to the green dinosaur that sticks out the window of the front passenger seat. “The head actually turns 90 degrees. You can even control how fast or slow it goes.”
Over the past year, the truck has come a long way. The car’s engine has been switched out multiple times, from the Mazda Rx-7 engine that broke down in their first race, to the Mustang engine that brought the Auto class a Guinness World Record participation certificate last September. It was the Pizza Planet truck’s third attempt at an endurance race and the first time the car finished an entire race.
“No, we didn’t win,” Camicia laughed. “With 216 cars, we were just lucky to finish.
The Pizza Planet truck is only one of many automobile projects sitting in the auto shop behind Camicia’s classroom. In the corner, there’s an unfinished car being built entirely from scratch—body, seats, engine and all. Further back is a Ford Model-T that gleams brand new as it sits waiting to be sent for its first paint job.
Since beginning to teach at Gunn in 1996, Camicia has based his class on hands-on learning. “You can see it, touch it, feel it,” he said while handling an ignition coil. “You can even get shocked if you want.” Students can begin working with cars as early as beginner’s Auto 1; according to Camicia, some students even bring their own cars into the shop to work on. “In the average class at Gunn, you sit in your seat all day,” senior Elizabeth Chang-Davidson, a student in Auto 1, said. “You take notes and you take tests. Sometimes you do labs. In Auto, you get up and go work on a car with wrenches. It’s entirely different from the typical class.”
The Pizza Planet truck is slotted for several more endurance races, the earliest being later this March up in Sonoma. For now, students will be busy getting their hands dirty in the shop as they complete the last finishing touches on the truck.