It can be a challenge to land a prime spot on a NASCAR pit crew. Yet car dealerships are scrambling to find qualified automotive technicians for their own “pit crews” — even with salaries of $30,000 to $70,000 or more, depending on the market and the technician's level of training.

Because of that labor shortage, part of the mission of General Motors Corp. Service Operations' No. 29 Goodwrench Expertise Challenge is to increase awareness of this lucrative and rewarding yet often-overlooked career, and support training opportunities for future technicians. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the auto industry will need 35,000 new technicians every year through 2010.

“Historically, being an automotive technician has been depicted as a dirty, dead-end kind of job,” says Peter Lord, executive director, GM Service Operations. “That old stereotype could not be further from the truth. Today's cars and trucks are very sophisticated — the computer technology in them alone, for example, is nearly 1,000 times more powerful than what took the Apollo mission to the moon.”

“GM Goodwrench dealerships need trained, qualified technicians because they know that satisfaction with vehicle service and repair work is closely tied to how customers view their vehicles and the dealership. Being an automotive technician isn't just a ‘job,’ it's a career.”

The No. 29 Goodwrench Expertise Challenge was set up to work this way:

If driver Kevin Harvick's No. 29 GM Goodwrench car won two out of 12 selected NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races beginning May 28, GM Goodwrench would set up a $200,000 scholarship fund to encourage Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES) high school students to continue their auto technical education by attending GM Automotive Service Educational Program (ASEP) colleges.

AYES is a nonprofit business and education partnership that creates auto technology career opportunities for promising young men and women at dealerships. It was founded in 1995 by former GM Chairman Jack Smith as a way to address the growing need for technicians.

Following a win at the Richmond International Raceway in September, Harvick powered to victory in the Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway to complete the Goodwrench Expertise Challenge, which also included awarding 29 '07 Chevrolet Avalanches to people who entered the Expertise Challenge contest and ended up as grand prize winners.

“I'm really proud of the fact that we get to give away 29 Chevy Avalanches and $200,000 for our GM Goodwrench Expertise Challenge,” says Harvick.

AYES CEO Larry Cummings calls the NASCAR promotion a good fit.

“There are thousands of NASCAR fans — and others — who are ideal candidates for a career as an automotive technician,” says Cummings. “The No. 29 Goodwrench Expertise Challenge is a fun and engaging way to help spread the word about these great career opportunities.”

Students enrolled in GM ASEP two-year programs earn while they learn, rotating their time between classes and interning at GM dealerships and GM service centers.

There are 66 GM ASEP participating schools in 38 states, 15 in Canada and one in the People's Republic of China.

Successful students graduate with an associate's degree, and either are ready for or have passed their National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification test.

Says Lord, “We urge men and women looking for a challenging, high-demand career that pays well and offers solid job security to consider being an automotive service technician.”