John Dunn and his son Josh, who have made a good living building and maintaining race cars, decided this fall to begin passing along some of their knowledge to the next generation.
That led to Monticello High School junior Ethan Waller spending 29 hours per week with the veteran mechanics, with the goal of becoming “the best welder in his class, up to and including his teacher,” said John Dunn, a former International Hot Rod Association nitro funny car driver and owner of Dunn and Gone Racing.
Josh Dunn, who owns Over Dunn Services in the same building as his father in Monticello, stated the internship is his way of supporting the trades.
“Kids need to work with their hands and be able to go into the trade, whatever the trade may be. I’m not saying he has to build race cars, but I want to give him the tools he needs to make decisions on whatever trade he wants to go into,” he commented.
Waller started learning at the businesses in mid-October, and could continue through his senior year. His real-life teachers have not taken it easy on him.
“His first day I had him cut the exhaust off a car,” said Josh Dunn.
When asked whether his experiences have been what he expected or more like a rude awakening, Waller hedged his reply.
“A little bit of both,” he said.
There is no school credit at this point for Waller, but MHS industrial arts teacher Ryan Woodham said there could be in the future. In the meantime, he is thrilled to have one of his students get some practical experience.
“It allows me to get a kid that is really excited about welding and manufacturing into a job that let’s him figure out if this is really what he wants to do. It also allows him to learn things he wouldn’t learn otherwise just taking a class,” said Woodham.
He added that another one of his students has started working at Wood Specialties in Bement, which has hired several Monticello graduates through the years.
Woodham likes the trend.
“I like that we’re branching out to hiring current high schoolers to work jobs related to possible careers. One thing that was very clear from meeting with the Dunns was that this was more about providing opportunities for students than it was about hiring a part-time worker,” he said.
John Dunn hopes the effort rubs off on other local craftsmen.
“We’re hoping this can spark some ideas in other businessmen. There are a lot of craftsmen in this town, and they’re not passing it along to anybody,” he said.
In the meantime, Waller is learning from a one-of-kind business.
“There are just a handful of guys like us in the country that do what we do, and of that handful, we are the only people who can build the motor, build the chassis, build a body, put everything together, then train you how to drive it and how to maintain it,” said John Dunn.
There is plenty of experience Waller can gain from the father and son duo. John raced for years on the IHRA circuit, ranking fifth in points worldwide for two straight years in his class. In the meantime, his team did all of its own maintenance and upgrades, as well as work on other team’s cars.
Josh worked for Kraft 20 years, rising to a maintenance supervisor, where he said “I taught a lot of guys to weld there.”