NASCAR isn't Will Burnside's favorite form of racing -- the 2018 Lowell graduate prefers drag racing -- but he will be tuning in to Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Thanks to the efforts of Team Penske and Würth USA, the names of 225 Universal Technical Industries students who graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic will have their names printed on the roof of driver Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Ford Mustang. In addition, they will be displayed on the speedway’s famous “Big Hoss TV,” the largest video board of its kind in the world.
"It's great for UTI to have awesome partners so students can see the possibilities that the industry has out there," UTI Admissions Representative Andy Brasher said. "This is something that's really nice for them since they didn't get to have a formal graduation."
UTI is the contracted training provider for over 35 manufacturers, including General Motors. Burnside started taking classes at the Lisle, Ill. campus shortly after high school, where he golfed (two years) and played tennis (three years). He completed UTI's Automotive/Diesel & Industrial Technology training in Dec. 2019. At the conclusion of 75 weeks, he earned 100 semester credit hours. Burnside worked part-time at Lombard Toyota in Illinois to pay for his housing while he attended school. In January, he started advanced training in the General Motors program in Avondale, Ariz., and was about a month-and-a-half away from finishing when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted classes. Burnside was able to return recently to complete his work, earning 16 semester credit hours and Bronze, Silver and Gold certification levels.
"We usually meet kids at the beginning of their senior year and work with them through their training," Brasher said. "I knew Will's true passion was cars and it's what he wanted to do for his career. He did really well in high school and was excellent with us."
Brasher learned of the plan to honor the students last week via an email and notified Burnside through a conference call Friday.
"No crap?!" Burnside said when given the news. "That's pretty cool to get your name on a car. I've never heard of anything like that. That's pretty crazy. I definitely didn't expect it."
Burnside developed an interest in fixing vehicles as a kid and it was an immediate match.
"My dad worked on semi trucks, a little of everything, so I grew up with that dynamic," he said. "I bought a pick-up truck when I was 16 and I tinker with that. A buddy got me into the program (at Lowell) and it grew from there. I think I was the first one to do work on my truck in the new shop."
A Class D technician at Mike Anderson Chevrolet, Burnside hopes to earn GM's world class technician certification, move up to the diesel technician shop and ultimately do Corvette training.
Team Penske and the Penske Corporation have employed more than 2,000 UTI graduates in the last decade, and currently have graduates of UTI’s NASCAR Technical Institute working on pit crews for Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.
“We are extremely proud of our 2020 graduates for succeeding during these unprecedented and uncertain times,” UTI CEO Jerome Grant said in a media release. “Demand for skilled technicians will remain high as our nation recovers from the pandemic. UTI graduates deliver services essential to the economy and keep our nation’s vehicles maintained and running in industries like health care, agriculture, energy and distribution. We are grateful to Team Penske and Würth USA for their ongoing partnership and for this generous recognition of our graduates.”
The race airs at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBC Sports Network and The Performance Racing Network (radio).
Brad Keselowski's No. 2 Ford Mustang will feature the names of 225 Universal Technical Industries graduates, including Lowell's Will Burnside, left, on the roof of the car during Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway. Burnside, pictured with UTI Admissions Representative Andy Brasher, recently completed the General Motors certification program in Arizona and works at Mike Anderson Chevrolet. (Photos provided)