Jake Bower figured out at a young age what takes most old-car lovers a lifetime: “To afford the cars I wanted—especially Volkswagens and other European go-fast cars—I knew I’d need a good job and to learn how to keep them running.”
Living in Martinez, California, an hour north of Silicon Valley, Bower thought a high-paying gig in the tech industry might be good. Until high school, his fascination for old rally cars and high-end imports was fueled by weekend car shows with his dad. Then, during his freshman year of high school, he signed up for automotive technology courses to complement his computer studies.
“That’s when I met Mr. Wheeler,” Bower says, “and my original plan started to change.”
Brian Wheeler spent 35 years in automotive repair before becoming a teacher at Alhambra High School. “Ten years in teaching, and I never had a student with the curiosity, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn that Jake has,” Wheeler says. “Once he set his sights on something, he was just all-in.”
Great opportunities come to those who make the most of small ones. When Wheeler thinks of his former student, he remembers a kid who took advantage of every chance to work, learn, and network with people. “The best experiences always came through the RPM Foundation. Whether those were museum trips, seeing legendary cars, or meeting industry people, RPM routinely exposes kids to the stuff you can only read about in magazines.”
Looking back, Bower says it was a series of RPM invites to big-name car shows that convinced him he wanted to take a shot at becoming a supercar mechanic. “Lyn St. James was our docent at my first one. At another, I met Barry Meguiar, and got to stand next to the most expensive car in the world—WeatherTech founder David MacNeil’s $70-million 1963 Ferrari GTO.”
Encouraged by Wheeler throughout high school, Bower earned $27,000 in scholarship money by regularly competing in engine-building competitions sponsored by SkillsUSA, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, and Universal Technical Institute’s Top Tech. In 2019, he was hired by RPM Ambassador Bennett Logan as a paid intern to support Casa Ferrari at Pebble Beach, and he participated in various RPM programs and activities, including the Sonoma Speed Festival as an apprentice judge and the Legends of Auto Gala as an honored guest.
“Whatever it takes—that’s my mindset,” Bower says. “It didn’t matter if I had to work, go to swim practice, or stay up late studying for finals after spending all day at a show. If an opportunity came along, I figured out a way to make it work.”
Bower, now 19, is currently a student at Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento. Balancing 70-hour weeks of work and study, he’s on his way to becoming a Certified Porsche Technician. Only the top students with a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher are considered for Porsche’s special 23-week program. Selected candidates travel for advanced training to one of three campus locations: Eastvale, California; Easton, Pennsylvania; or Porsche’s U.S. headquarters in Atlanta. Bower has no doubts he’ll be among the candidates.
“My goal then is to work in a dealership,” he says. “After that, who knows? Maybe go to Europe? It doesn’t matter, as long as I’m working to keep old race cars alive and well.”
This article originally ran in the March/April 2020 issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine.