Local News

Wednesday, Apr 30 2014 08:11 PM

Troubled youths fix race cars

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Jonathan Johnson loosens up a stubborn oil filter on a race car at the Kern County Raceway. He is one of a group of youths on probation who got the opportunity to work on the race cars for the 911 Race for Youth series where area police officers, firefighters and deputies will battle it out on the racetrack.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Nicholas Garza brings out a floor jack to service a race car for the 911 Race For Youth series that features area police officers, firefighters and deputies battling it out on the Kern County Raceway. Garza is one of a group of youths on probation servicing the vehicle for the race series.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Youths on probation pull out a race car from a garage at the Kern County Raceway after completing an oil change and service. The race cars are used in the 911 Race for Youth series that restarted at the race park ending in 2005 at the old Mesa Marin Raceway. The race series will feature area police officers, firefighters and deputies battling it out on the racetrack.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

For 16-year-old Nicholas Garza, the 911 Race for Youth program was an opportunity for change.

"I wanted to learn something new," he said. "And have a new experience."

Garza, of Bakersfield, is on probation until he is 21, after committing a residential burglary.

He and four other Kern County teens on probation spent Wednesday learning to repair cars used in the 911 Race for Youth.

The 911 Race for Youth involves law enforcement and emergency response teams challenging each other in car races at Kern County Raceway Park.

It allows 22 Bakersfield teens on probation, ages 16 to 18, to learn their way around the Pro-4 race cars used.

The time missed from their school -- Bridges Career Development Academy, a high school administered by the Kern County Probation Department and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office -- is made up on other days.

Jonathan Johnson, 17, is on probation for mischievous conduct. He volunteered to participate in the program.

"My family works on cars so I was interested," Johnson said. "I like to figure out how the engine ticks."

The teens are learning basic mechanics such as changing oil, replacing parts and repairing any damage incurred during races.

John Piker is the construction supervisor and runs all of the Pro-4 races for the raceway. He helps teach the teens about the cars.

"This is a way for them to get involved with things they rarely get to see. Not many people ever actually touch a race car," Piker said. "It's cool to see them doing it."

The teens at the track Wednesday worked from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. repairing damage on a car.

Twenty-two teens volunteered through their probation officers to participate in the program.

The cars are raced by members of the Shafter, Taft and Bakersfield police departments as well as the Kern County Sheriff's Office, the probation office, and city and county fire officials.

The 911 Race for Youth was previously run at Mesa Marin Raceway for youth offenders at Camp Erwin Owen School. The program ended when the Mesa Marin track closed in October 2005.

Bryan Terry, a Kern County probation officer, said when Kern County Raceway Park opened last year, law enforcement agencies worked together to get the program running again because it was a positive outlet for the teens.

The detectives and sergeants driving the cars have eight 15-lap races around a quarter-mile track. The ninth race will be between the chiefs of each agency.

Each participating agency raised $4,500 -- donated from local businesses -- to lease the race cars from Kern County Raceway Park, said Bakersfield Police Officer Craig Trefz, who drove in one of the races.

The next race is set for May 10.

The cars used in the 911 Race for Youth are also used when raceway employees offer racing lessons to the public.

Julio Vasquez, 17, is on probation for fighting. He said it is his second time on probation. The program keeps him motivated to do something positive.

Terry said the teens like the learning process. The majority of them have trouble with school and the raceway is a way to reward them, he said.

"We're giving them new skills," Terry said.

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