Cuesta student headed to Brazil: Life of preparation goes into car event

Daniel Lehmkuhl is going to Brazil to compete in an international auto skills contest.  photo Jayson Mellom 2-19-10
Daniel Lehmkuhl is going to Brazil to compete in an international auto skills contest. photo Jayson Mellom 2-19-10 The Tribune

Since Daniel Lehmkuhl was 4 years old, he has spent his free time in his dad’s auto shop, where he took cars apart and learned how they worked by putting them back together.

Now a 20-year-old Cuesta College student, Lehmkuhl is one of four American competitors preparing for WorldSkills Americas competition in Rio de Janeiro, March 5 through 15.

In Brazil, Lehmkuhl will be tested on his knowledge of seven areas of the car including electrical, braking, steering and suspension systems on American, European and South American cars.

He will endure 21 hours of competing time, which is the longest competition he has been part of, and will take a 100-question written exam.

Lehmkuhl said contestants will spend three hours at each station and are judged on correctness.

“I will have to write down answers as I do things so I can’t take shortcuts,” he said.

Each contestant was provided with information on all cars involved in the contest, but Lehmkuhl spent most of the past two months having it translated from Portuguese to English. He contacted foreign car dealerships, researched the foreign cars’ diagrams and duplicated the challenges he expects to see in Brazil.

Only one car is American, the 2010 Ford Focus, which Perry Ford donated to Lehmkuhl to use in his preparation. Lehmkuhl also plans on visiting the Volkswagen training center in Lemoore and an automotive school in Kansas City, Kan., to train with national head coaches.

He started competing in high school and has taken part in state, regional and national contests.

His dad, Jeff Lehmkuhl, restored cars with him and was his biggest influence, Lehmkuhl said. Jeff Lehmkuhl is an automotives teacher at San Luis Obispo High School, and his students have won many auto skills contests.

“It’s all his fault,” the younger Lehmkuhl said jokingly.

Lehmkuhl juggles his time between taking 16 units at Cuesta College and working 32 hours each week at a downtown Shell gas station, which has a full-service shop. He also works as a wedding photographer on weekends.

He plans to graduate by 2012 from Cal Poly with a degree in industrial technology.

“From a really young age, I always said I did not want to be an auto skills teacher,” Lehmkuhl said. “But after teaching summer school classes through San Luis Coastal Adult School and coaching football, I know that’s what I want to do after all.”