It's the end of an era. After eight years of teaching students how to fix cars during Brooks' Winter Term, and announcing his retirement, Dusty Richard P'99 is passing the (blow)torch to whomever else is interested in leading his beloved "Car Wars" course.
"This has been great," the mathematics teacher said reflecting on the course he taught for the last time this month, and admitting that he isn't surprised he ended up teaching it for nearly a decade. "I had all sorts of interesting designs on how we were going to do this when I started."
Fittingly, the car that students repaired during his last stint teaching the course was his own '67 Jaguar. "I'm very happy about that," he said. "It's my last chance to use the school's lift!" (Over the years Richard — who came to Brooks in 1978 — restored a number of different cars with Winter Term students alongside facility's Paul Gallo, and in recent years music teacher Maylo Keller, from a '73 Mustang, MG Midget, and '65 Buick Riviera, to a '74 Corvette).
The goal of the course is to "immerse students in the fundamentals of automotive theory, maintenance and restoration in both intellectual and physical ways," according to the catalog description. And Winter Term organizer, Associate Head for Academic Affairs Lance Latham said "Car Wars" has delivered on all that and more.
"In many ways, 'Car Wars' epitomizes the Winter Term experience at Brooks," said Latham. Students get the opportunity to work with their hands and minds, focused on one project the entire time: a classic car. And the course's popularity speaks for itself. "Every year," said Latham, "we've had to turn students away due to space limitations."
It isn't just automotive enthusiasts who are drawn to the class, either. Lexie Prokopis '19 "didn't even know this part of Brooks existed, the garage and stuff" when she began the course, she said. "So it's been cool to see another side of the school" through the experience.
"I've gotten to do a lot of interesting things during this Winter Term," added Alec D'Orio '20. "I think when we put the horns in, hearing the sound they made when they finally worked, was probably one of the coolest. It took about two classes to do it."
Now D'Orio has a much greater appreciation for all that goes into maintaining, and fixing, a vehicle. "It's a lot of hard work but when it works, it feels good," he said.
Keller, who has taught "Car Wars" with Richard and Gallo for the past four years, believes that the fact the course offers a little something for everyone makes it so popular. "For some students, I think it's refreshing to be out of the classroom and to be working with their hands," he explained. "For others, I imagine that the problem-solving aspect is attractive to them. Often times plan A leads to a dead end and you quickly need to come up with plan B, and possibly plan C, to reach your goals. I know that some students, past and present, have expressed an interest in the field of engineering and this class gives them a window into that world."
Of course, getting a chance to learn from the legendary Richard himself is reason enough for some. "Dusty approaches each job, be it great or small, with the same level of commitment and attention to detail," said Keller. "'Good enough' is a saying rarely heard when working with Dusty, and I think that the students clearly get this. It rubs off on them and pushes them to try harder to reach the same level of perfection that he strives for."
With Richard retiring, though, what will happen to "Car Wars?" Keller isn't clear, nor is Winter Term head Latham, at this point. "It's hard to know what the future will be for Car Wars after Dusty," he said. "If an interested faculty member wanted to continue the class, that would be great!"
OTHER RECENT STORIES
The Guest Stars of Winter Term? Alumni!
A dozen Brooks graduates helped make this year's intensives a success by sharing their expertise, fielding questions and inspiring students in classes on campus and off.
Sharing Winter Term with All
Brooks' annual Winter Term Symposium gave students a chance to show family and friends all the skills they've learned, sights they've seen, and work they've done for the past three weeks.
Students Learn from Artist Who Inspired Their Class
New Orleans artist Emilie Rhys worked with Brooks students this week as an artist-in-residence, inspiring them to sketch live performances and try new ways of drawing.