PARIS — Members of the Oxford Hills Middle School Aspire Higher race car team have announced their driver for the team’s 2015 Oxford 250 car: Spencer Morse of Waterford.
And now, they’ll build the car.
Morse, 21, a three-generation racer, with his father and grandfather, will be the first in his family to go for the Oxford 250 win at Oxford Plains Speedway next summer.
At a news conference Thursday, the team of 45 seventh- and eighth-graders announced they selected the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School graduate after a lengthy interview process earlier this month.
“It’s a great honor,” Morse told the group, which included special guest Mike Morneau, at Crazy Horse Racing in Paris, where the car is being built. Morneau is a member of Stewart Haas Racing’s pit crew for three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and 2014 Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, who was recently named American Auto Racing’s Driver of the Year.
“This is something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life,” Morse told the students.
“This is an incredible opportunity for me,” he said. “I was truly honored when they informed me of their decision. I’ve worked hard with my father and a great crew to earn the success I’ve had, yet we really didn’t have the resources in place to advance to the premier class. I’m going to give these kids all I have to be competitive and consistent.”
The Aspire Higher race car is being built by the students’ building and engineering group with assistance from Crazy Horse Racing owners Mitch and Judy Green. This will be the second car the school has entered in the Oxford 250.
Mitch Green is considered one of the top chassis builders in New England. He said he enjoys guiding the students through every step of the process.
“This program has created a ton of interest in how racing works from a mechanical aspect,” he said. “Plus, that team of girls learning about the marketing, business and promotional side is a plus, as well. We’re giving these kids some real-world knowledge that should serve them well in the future.”
Morse said, “It will be a learning curve for me while the students are developing skills in engineering, fabrication and building. I’m going to work hard to earn Rookie-of-the-Year honors for them and get their car into the Oxford 250.”
Morneau, a former Oxford resident and graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School who lives in North Carolina, told the students about his work on the pit crews and encouraged them to aim high in life.
Morneau credits Mitch Green, his former Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School teacher, with getting him where he is today. His role on the pit crew is to install the rear tires and maintain the wedge and track bar on the race cars.
“Live your dreams,” he told the students. “Go to school, pay attention and whatever you want to do in life, be the best.”
Kyle Morey is a 19-year veteran math teacher at Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris. He said the skills these students are honing through this program will prepare them for career choices.
“I hear talk these days about the school system being disconnected from the real world,” Morey said. “A lot of people think kids aren’t learning the skills needed to go on to a higher level of education or become gainfully employed.
“It’s our goal at the middle school to give these kids a real-world education,” he said. “From the guys building the car, to the girls working on getting sponsors, to the graphic designers laying out the scheme for the car — they’re all getting hands-on skills that will be useful, no matter what occupation they eventually choose.”
Saige McGinnis, a member of the student publicity group, said the race-car team has given middle school students real-life experience. Every school, she said, should provide students with the opportunity to experience something like this instead of having to wait until they are adults.
The idea to build a community race car was initiated several years ago, when middle school teachers created nontraditional ways to engage at-risk students in learning. They told the 33 students who signed up to build a race car that it could be raced in the Oxford 250 — and it was.
The Aspire Higher race car team manages, builds and designs the car. The students are divided into teams for the project. Some help build the car, some work on finances, others on the website and some on publicity.
If Morse wins the race this year, his earnings will be returned to the self-sustaining school program to start building a new car.
The students will debut an Aspire Higher show car at the Northeast Motorsports Expo as they continue to build the race car. The event will be held at the Augusta Civic Center on Jan. 9-11.
Fans can follow the team’s progress at www.facebook.com/AspireHigherRacecar.