(Editor’s Note: From pearl, metallic flake and candy-colored paint to modified small-blocks, big-blocks and flathead…
This 18-year-old Porsche mechanic has the gearhead dream gig
One week you’re dropping a new engine into a 1974 911 IROC. The next, you’re transforming a 993-chassis coupe into a GT2 RSR race car. Every day in the shop is different, but one thing is constant: Getting paid to work on awesome, air-cooled Porsches of every stripe never gets old.
Welcome to the dream job of Aaron Umbanhowar. At 18, he is the youngest mechanic at one of the country’s most renowned Porsche performance specialists—Patrick Motorsports in Phoenix, Arizona.
“My dream car right now is a first-generation Mazda RX-7, but I’ve always had a thing for Porsches,” says Umbanhowar. “I even had one on my business cards before I started here as an intern.”
Some big break often plays into a career success story. Ask Umbanhowar about his, and he’ll tell you about the automotive program during his freshman year at Shadow Mountain High School.
“There were only 10 kids in the program,” he recalls. “It was underfunded, so my instructor—a collision specialist—brought in an early Impala that he wanted to part out and sell for money to support the program.” Umbanhowar had never handled a plasma cutter before, but he took to sectioning the Impala like a pro. “My teacher suggested I start taking advanced classes at West-MEC Education Center in Phoenix—a technical school for juniors and seniors. My parents thought I should wait. But that was the first time I’d really worked on a car, and it kind of showed me that’s what I wanted to do.”
Lack of student interest and financial support led to a shutdown of Shadow Mountain’s automotive program, but Umbanhowar was hooked. After his sophomore year, he lobbied his parents to enroll him at West-MEC. His instructor there, David Melian, recognized his new student as a standout.
“We teach ‘career classes’ at West-MEC, but a lot of students only do enough to pass,” Melian says. “Aaron had a desire to learn and took classes very seriously, and he was dependable.”
Every year, the RPM Foundation offers West-MEC students the opportunity to go to the big Barrett-Jackson auction in nearby Scottsdale, where they meet people in the industry and tour a different shop and car museum every day.
In 2017, only Umbanhowar bothered to show up. “He had business cards and copies of his résumé ready to hand out,” recalls Melian. “On the second day, he toured Patrick Motorsports, which led to an ‘externship’—working there four days a week and spending one day at school—his senior year.”
Ninety percent of life at West-MEC is hands-on in the car lab, where the classes and tests Umbanhowar took—combined with his real-world work experience—led to certifications required to work as a professional mechanic.
Umbanhowar is proof that “just showing up” to seize the moment when a great opportunity presents itself really works when you’re prepared and have the experience to make a standout impression. Now he finds himself in a job he loves at a top full-service performance and restoration shop where everything from custom fabrication and interior upholstery to engine rebuilds are done in-house. “I love working toward the end result,” he says. “I love seeing a car come in all ugly and then seeing the customer’s face when it leaves the paint area in show quality.”