He thought he was too good, made his students the best, and now he's going to quit while he's on top. After 20 years as auto shop teacher at Thomson High School, Chan Drake will retire in July.
In his 20 years of teaching, students in Mr. Drake's class have won the state championship in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition 15 times, and have placed in the top ten at the national competition five times.
Chan Drake poses with the trophies his students have won over the years.
"When I first came here, I said we were going to win state. It's not about how smart you are, it's how you apply yourself. The secret is I really love this field. ... Thomson has made me look good," Mr. Drake said.
In 1985, Mr. Drake retired after 20 years as a jet mechanic in the Air Force. With his experience and his master's degree, Mr. Drake said he thought he was too good to be a high school teacher, and he bought a car dealership in Augusta.
"After only six months I said é─˛Boy, I ain't doing this,'" he said.
With the encouragement of Charlie Hill, a former teacher at THS, Mr. Drake began teaching. In all his years, Mr. Drake said he has not used a single sick day because he enjoyed coming to work so much.
"It's been good for me. It's been a gratifying experience. I feel fortunate to work at Thomson with such a diversified group," Mr. Drake said.
Mr. Drake said "Thomson has smart students," and he is fortunate that many of his students are influenced by their fathers who belong to car clubs. He said he even has taught the sons of some of his earlier students.
"I don't have to make them learn, because they are excited to learn," he said.
Mr. Drake's class is so popular that many students can't get in until their senior year, even though it's a three-year class. Mr. Drake said he trains his students that work ethics are just as important as mechanics.
"I tell them to stay clean, moral, and respectful. If you don't have these ethics, then nobody wants you no matter what degree you have," he said.
But mechanics are not underrated as is evidenced by the display of trophies in the hallway of THS. Russell Montgomery, who won the state championship under Mr. Drake in 1989, said he first signed up for auto shop because he heard it was the easiest class. That was before Mr. Drake was the teacher.
"With him as the new teacher, we couldn't sit and sleep. ... He's very thorough," Mr. Montgomery said. "When I got to Dekalb Tech in Atlanta, every thing they were teaching, he had already taught me, so I was able to skip ahead some classes."
For the annual auto competition, students take a written exam administered by the Department of Education in each state. The two highest scores are combined to form that school's team, and counts as 40 percent of their score in the finals. In the final competition, which is hands-on, vehicles are sabotaged with identical malfunctions. The winning team makes the highest quality repair in the lowest amount of time.
Thomson High has acquired a reputation from winning so many times during the last 20 years. Mr. Drake said schools flip a coin and choose which car they will get to work on. But for the last few years, Thomson has not been allowed to participate in the coin flip, they have to settle for the last car not chosen. Mr. Drake said the officials seem to think his students have worked on the car the night before somehow, because their repair time is always so quick.
Mr. Drake said the two students work together in front of a judge, while their coaches are confined to a separate room. Mr. Drake said being in that room is torture for him.
"As a coach, he's wide-open, like a wide-open encyclopedia of knowledge," said Daniel Roland, who won the state competition in 2003.
Winners of the competition earn a free scholarship to the Ford Community College in Spartanburg, SC. Mr. Drake said it's the only field in high school that has a contest sponsored by big industry such as Ford, Chevy and Chrysler.
Mr. Montgomery said winning the contest influenced which career path he would take after high school. Both Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Roland work at C and C Tire in Thomson. Mr. Montgomery admires Mr. Drake so much that he is considering going into the teaching field himself. He said he has already taught some classes at Augusta Tech.
Mr. Drake said he isn't leaving teaching because he doesn't like it. He is retiring while he is still healthy. Mr. Drake said he stays active, runs, lifts weights, rides motorcycles and plays tennis. He has many peers who are beginning to experience health problems, and he wants to "enjoy an active retirement."
"I need to move on to another stage. It's like graduating from school. I know I'll miss the kids, but I want to retire while I can enjoy it," he said.
McDuffie County Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen said he's already looking to fill big shoes.
"Chan is almost like an institution around here," he said. "... He's another one of those Bulldog Points of Pride that we talk about that has had consistency and excellence over the years.
Dr. Petersen said he hopes to have a candidate to take over for Mr. Drake in the next month or so.
"As many people as are in the business, there are a large number of those that have gone through Chan's program," he said. "I would think Chan has contacts all across the state of Georgia that would be able to help us find some wonderful candidates that would be interested in Thomson, Ga."
Thomson High School Georgia Automotive Champions:
1988--Charlie Black, John Smith
1989--Kevin Green, Russell Montgomery
1990 (runner-up)--Bobby Wren, Scott Langham
1991--Wayne Cheeley, Tim Fuller
1992--Vic Higdon, Brad Faiglier
1993--Clayton Dains, Shane Rimmer
1994--Russell Tharpe, Jason Franks
1995--Chris Lucas, Jason Welch
1996--Larry Griffith, Peter Darling
1997--Leslie Odum, Blake Taylor
1998--Russell Langham, Jason Brooks
1999--Jeff Colbert, Britt Shedd
2000 (runner-up)--Dusty Clemons, Clay Johnson
2001--B.J. Mauck, Lee Treadwell
2002 (runner-up)--Phillip Burton, Jamie Murphy
2003--Jeff Cobb, Daniel Roland
2004--William Shelton, Phillip Edwards
2005--(High Written Test Award)--Bobby Stanley, Joe Dewitt