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Piston Stories

Auto Restoration Students at the Cavallino Classic 

Canossa Events, organizers of the 32nd Edition of the Cavallino Classic at the magnificent Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, hosted The Piston Foundation and three auto restoration students at this year’s event on January 28. As always, the world’s most beautiful and significant Ferraris were on display. Also featured, was a first of its kind Piston Foundation panel discussion about the challenges that keep young car enthusiasts from pursuing careers as collector car technicians.

By Judy Stropus & Jeff Mason

February 14, 2022

A Discussion with Auto Restoration Students

Three auto restoration students were invited to join Piston Foundation executives and several auto restoration professionals to present The New Wave: Everything You Don’t Know About the Next Generation of Collector Car Technicians in a live panel discussion. As sponsors of the Foundation for the past two years, the Cavallino Classic and Canossa Events shared this important conversation about the future of the collector car industry with the Ferrari community. 

The discussion was led by the Piston Foundation’s Manager of Development Sperry Hutchinson, and co-hosted by Jeff Mason, Piston’s President/COO. The panel included students Jacob Koehn, Sean Whetstone and Zoe Carmichael. Joining them were Paul Russell, owner of Paul Russell and Company in Essex, Massachusetts and Jon Dega, who operates Rare Classics Restorations LLC in Boca Raton, Florida. Each of the students on the panel was a Piston Scholar who had received one the first automotive trade school scholarships awarded by the Foundation in 2022.

Hutchinson covered such topics as the uncertain future of collector car culture, including questions about the primary issues that keep young people engaged and the collector car world turning, and the challenges in hiring and maintaining a current, skilled workforce. 

The Discussion Panel Highlights Career Challenges

“Quite simply, there is no career path into the collector car industry for a technician,” said Jeff Mason. That is the fundamental issue. […] for a young person in their teens who has an interest in cars, when they look forward and say, could I make this a career? There is no path that’s evident for them to do that and so we end up losing those interested teens to other industries.”

When asked about her challenges, Zoe Carmichael replied, “Finding a good mentor…that didn’t happen for me until a couple years in. I had a good friend … he really taught me everything that I know. […] And I’m truly grateful for his mentorship because I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Paul Russell, who is not only a world-renowned restorer but also a board member of the McPherson College auto restoration program, talked about what he looks for in the technicians he hires. “We feel like we can teach skills, but you need people with a passion. … somebody that actually has chosen the path to go to a program to learn skills and learn about the cars.”

When asked how one  might develop that passion, Paul replied, …”one way to develop that passion is through exposure. […] I think if you talk to almost every car person, man or woman, that loves cars today, there is a ignition point somewhere where an uncle, their father, a neighbor, had this really cool car and that got them rolling. And so exposure to that, I think frankly, is a responsibility of today’s collectors and owners.”

Zoe Carmichael, Junior at McPherson College
Paul Russell, Restoration Shop Owner
L to R: Sean Whetstone, Jacob Koehn, Zoe Carmichael, and Sperry Hutchinson II

 Encouraging a Community Effort

As the discussion came to a close, Jeff Mason talked about how the community could help more young people pursue a career as a collector car technician. “…the simple math of what the Piston Foundation is doing is this: $5,000 supports a scholarship and $15,000 supports an apprenticeship. So if we as a car community want to see this happen, if we want to see these skills sustained, if we want to create career paths for young people… everybody can sponsor a scholar from a small gift to a large one. Everybody can get involved”

Watch a video of the discussion panel or read a transcript of the complete conversation on The Piston Foundation blog, The New Wave: Everything You Don’t Know About the Next Generation of Collector Car Technicians.

Students Assist at the Concorso d’Eleganza

During Saturday’s Cavallino Classic Concorso d’Eleganza, the Piston Scholars had the opportunity to assist J.R. Amantea, of GT Motorcars of Wallingford, Connecticut, prepare three Ferraris, a 288 GTO, a 512bbl, and an F40, for the show and get them to the show field. Steady rain and electrical issues made it a challenge for the team to be ready for the judges.

Scholar Sean Whetstone diagnosed a problem with the Ferrari 512’s turn signal and made the connection repair on the show field. It was the first time he had ever worked on a Ferrari. Many people were impressed with Sean’s skills and resourcefulness, having caught a glimpse of what young technicians can bring to the industry.

Mentors Share their Advice

On the following day, Sunday, the students and Piston execs took part in a Concours at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, where Koehn, Whetstone and Carmichael viewed the cars in the Concours and toured the ground with three different mentors, enhancing their experience. “Car guys” Bob Bishop, Dustin Wetmore, and Elton Stevens took time from their busy schedules to walk the show and mentor the students.

Mentor Bob Bishop with the Piston Scholars
Dustin Wetmore spends time on the show field with Zoe, Sean, and Jacob.

“[It’s] a great networking event. There’s a lot of support and…a strong fraternity of car enthusiasts. It’s nice to have people tell us to just keep going and pushing, evolving and learning,” said student Koehn.

Added Carmichael, “The Piston Foundation has connected me with a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I am grateful for that. The panel discussion was awesome. John and Paul outlined the barriers that students like us face in getting into the restoration industry and we’re really trying to figure out how to navigate that.”

“Everyone seemed so interested and excited about the idea of helping young people get into the industry and be able to keep these cars alive,” added Whetstone.

Bob Bishop with three Piston Scholars at the Sunday Sport & Classic

Thanks to Our Panelists and Mentors

The Piston Foundation would like to thank panelists Paul Russell and Jon Dega, Piston Scholars Jacob Koehn, Sean Whetstone, and Zoe Carmichael, mentors J.R. Amantea, Bob Bishop, Elton Stephens, and Dustin Wetmore for supporting the Foundation’s mission.

Sperry Hutchinson II presents a platinum award at the Cavallino Classic

Special Thanks to Canossa Events and the Cavallino Classic

The Piston Foundation would like to extend a special thanks to Canossa Events and the Cavallino Classic for their continued support of our scholarship and apprenticeship programs. We would like to recognize Luigi Orlandi, CEO of Canossa Events, and Maria Homann, Senior VP Marketing & Sales for their support of our mission and for making the Foundation part of the Ferrari community. Grazie, tutti.

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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