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From NASCAR Tech Student to Instructor: How Frank Mendoza Works Hard in the Auto Industry

Nov 16, 2021 ·
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Enthusiasm, passion and a willingness to learn are all great attributes to have when pursuing a career in the skilled trades. This is especially true when it comes to those teaching the next generation of technicians, and these are some of the things that have made NASCAR Technical Institute’s Frank Mendoza such a great instructor.

Frank graduated from the Mooresville, North Carolina, campus before he took up teaching. From an early age, he wanted to know how things work and has been on a continuous quest for knowledge.

Keep reading to learn more about Frank’s journey and how he got to where he is today.

Years of Experience

Frank says his interest in vehicles started when he was around 6. “There are pictures of me jacking up my red Radio Flyer pedal car and popping the wheels off to grease the bearings. My father was a jack-of-all-trades, so fixing and building things in the garage was a way of life.”

The need to know how things work and why was the driving force behind Frank pursuing the technician career path. His journey really got started in 1989, when he was a freshman in high school working at a restoration/machine shop for a Vietnam veteran.

“He desperately wanted me to be a machinist and I tried, but my heart wasn’t in it. I like puzzles and figuring out how things work, so I begged, and he finally let me work in the auto shop after two years,” Frank says. “I never looked back from then.”

Frank became an ASE Master Technician in 1997 and opened his own shop in Petaluma, California, about 60 miles north of his hometown of San Francisco. His shop, called Performance West, specialized in import-performance and muscle cars.

“I got some lucky breaks and ended up getting invited to the Las Vegas SEMA shows as a special guest doing interviews, TV promos, magazine spots, etc. After 11 years on the import circuit, I sold my shop and went to work for a close family friend helping him manage one of his shops as the manager and diagnostician,” Frank says.

Eventually, Frank decided to go back to school to become better at electrical diagnostics. He chose to attend NASCAR Tech for its Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training (MSAT) programs and high level of training.

Transitioning to Teaching

It was during his time at NASCAR Tech that Frank thought about what he wanted to do next. “After helping my classmates through my time [at NASCAR Tech], I had the feeling that I could be a good teacher.”

Frank completed the Nissan MSAT program and graduated from NASCAR Tech in 2019, where he was chosen as the Student Speaker for his graduating class. “Standing in front of my peers and thanking all our families, instructors and friends is a moment I will always treasure.”

After graduation, he got a job at Flow Nissan in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and eventually earned Nissan Master Technician status. But becoming an instructor at NASCAR Tech was “always the end goal,” Frank says.

“Being that I have mostly been in supervisory roles at my jobs, being an instructor sounded like a logical path to pursue,” he says.

Frank worked at Flow Nissan until 2020, when he got a call from an education manager at NASCAR Technical Institute asking if he wanted a job. “Of course I said yes, and the rest is history,” Frank says.

My job is to be there and be a life raft in case students need it. By the time they’re done here, I want them to be confident in their skills and abilities. Seeing students have that lightbulb moment when they are able to solve a problem is amazing.
Frank Mendoza, NASCAR Tech instructor and graduate

Frank’s transition to instructor was a bit less traditional than most, he recalls. “I had just graduated a little over a year prior, so I already knew all the instructors from taking their classes. It made the first-day jitters and butterflies a non-issue, since I was already familiar with the people and campus.”

Just three days after his first day on the job, things started shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When in-person labs eventually resumed, Frank says, “I got crash-course training, grabbed all my notes from when I was a student and started emulating my former instructors.”

Frank adapted quickly to NASCAR Tech’s blended learning model, which combines online lectures with hands-on lab applications.

“Technically the new blended curriculum is all I know, so the growing pains weren’t too bad,” Frank says. He found that his knowledge from when he was a student was also a helpful aid in the classroom. 

Frank continues to work at Flow Nissan on the weekends, keeping busy as a Master Tech specializing in GT-R, hybrid and diesel vehicles. Between teaching and part-time wrenching, he keeps busy doing work that he enjoys.

Impacting Students’ Lives

As the Advanced Diagnostics technical team leader at NASCAR Tech, Frank teaches one of the last courses students take before graduation.

“This is a course that imitates the real world as much as possible,” he says. “We review what you learn in the core classes, and then it’s mostly hands-on work where I give students a problem or concern that they have to fix.”

He adds that it’s all about building confidence. “My job is to be there and be a life raft in case students need it. By the time they’re done here, I want them to be confident in their skills and abilities. Seeing students have that lightbulb moment when they are able to solve a problem is amazing.”

One of Frank’s fondest memories as an instructor was being chosen by the students to hand out their diplomas on the same stage he graduated on. He says, “It just shows me that I am making a meaningful impact on the young lives of our students, which is why I became an instructor in the first place.”

This driving factor is something that has kept Frank going and wanting to learn. He is currently qualified to teach seven additional courses apart from Advanced Diagnostics Course 126. He says his future goals include being able to teach every core program course and eventually an MSAT course.

According to his supervisor, Roslyn Young, “Frank has a wealth of industry experience and drive. He currently doesn’t teach an MSAT but would have been a good fit for the Nissan program had it not dissolved. (He) thrives on providing students with current and exciting technology, and will teach wherever needed at a moment’s notice.”

Frank received a HERO award from NASCAR Tech in 2020, which is given to the instructor who steps up and goes above and beyond. It’s clear he’s been able to use his experience and training to help impact the lives of future skilled trade professionals!

Advice for Aspiring Technicians

Frank has had an amazing journey through the industry, from shop and management experience to his time as a student and now instructor. His enthusiasm is visible when talking about the moments he’s experienced throughout his career.

He highly recommends pursuing a career in the trades. “As evidenced by this past year, having a knowledge of a skilled trade makes you extremely desirable to the marketplace, which makes you essential and invaluable.”6

Frank also emphasizes the impact of getting an education. “If you have a passion for a particular trade, it just makes sense to pursue a career and go to an institution that will prepare you for the workforce. I know that with all my knowledge, if there’s transportation there will always be work for me.”

Along with his advice to get an education that will benefit your career, Frank urges future young technicians to “have patience and take good notes. Study hard and keep practicing your craft until it becomes second nature. We live in a world of instant gratification, and sometimes it’s hard to see the end goal, but it will come if you stick with it and put in the work.”

As evidenced by the jobs Frank has held, there are a many opportunities for those who choose to train to become an automotive technician. The Automotive Technology program offered at NASCAR Tech and Universal Technical Institute can help give you the hands-on experience and education needed to pursue a career.1

For those who may be interested in becoming an instructor one day, Frank has some advice to offer as well: “Remember back when you started in this business and were just a rookie. Someone gave you a chance and invested their time in you to help you get where you are now.”

When he’s not busy working, Frank trains for marathons and races when he can. He also spends time with his wife working on their farm and taking care of the chickens, goats and ducks. And, of course, he works on his own car projects!

Training for the Automotive Industry at NASCAR Tech and UTI

Frank’s story is an example of what can happen with years of hard work and experience in the industry. There are many different opportunities available for those with similar passion.

With total auto technician employment expected to exceed 705,000 by 2030, it’s a great time to start your journey.47 Enrolling in the Automotive Technology program offered at UTI and NASCAR Tech can help you take the first step. You can also decide to advance further by taking manufacturer-specific training like Frank.

While the Nissan program is no longer offered at UTI or NASCAR Tech, there are still a number of car manufacturers that allow students to take their training further, from Stellantis to Ford. Getting additional training can help build your skill set and make you more appealing to potential employers.

UTI has campuses nationwide that offer the Automotive program, including NASCAR Tech in Mooresville, North Carolina. If you’re ready to get started on your training, request more information today!

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