Society Matters | Community Hot Rod Project Hosts Fundraiser for Vocational Training Center

On May 15, a few thousand car enthusiasts turned out for the S.B. County Auto Expo, hosted by the Community Hot Rod Project (CHRP) at Glen Annie Golf Course. Guests sauntered amid the 350-plus vehicles dating from the early 1900s to today, conversing with owners. Registration fees from the event go toward a facility CHRP seeks to create that will serve as an all-ages vocational training center, an event venue, car museum, and more. The vocational center will teach basic and advanced automotive skills, along with life skills. 

Since the all-volunteer nonprofit’s founding in February 2021, the CHRP has been teaching all ages how to build and restore classic and off-road race vehicles, as well as serving the community more broadly. Its 80 members include aerospace engineers, mechanics, law enforcement officers, and church leaders. Its first car show drew 175 cars and 2,000 people, and it showed the magnitude of community interest. Instead of charging a registration fee, the CHRP asked for new or gently used parts or gift cards for its build projects, which led to a massive collection of parts for the program.

The CHRP has a few current auto-build projects, including a 1966 Lincoln Continental convertible. Among the many tasks CHRP is doing for the client is installing a 2021 drive train and a modern touch-screen to operate all the key features, blending old-school styling with modern technology.

The CHRP has held a couple of free outreach events at Southcoast Church in Goleta and plans to do more. CHRP volunteers provide basic maintenance services such as parts inspection and how to properly jack up the vehicle, while educating car owners on how to do these tasks themselves.

CHRP founder and president Kevin Haeberle, age 39, has worked on cars since age 3 and held positions in the auto, aerospace, and off-road racing industries. His passion for autos is surpassed only by his passion to serve others. The center Haeberle envisions will serve young kids through retirees, providing training in basic automotive skills, which fills a void created by the demise years ago of auto programs in local schools.

The center will teach advanced skills too, like how to turn one’s rendering on a sketch pad into an amazing design. It will teach customization work and how to do modifications, like redesigning body lines or adding modern features to older cars.

Beyond providing auto skills, Haeberle wants the CHRP to be a positive influence for the next generation, with its volunteer mentors modeling how to calmly approach tasks and problems and how to respectfully interact with others.

Haeberle also envisions using cars as a connection tool, leading to service far beyond the auto realm. This aim is reflected in the “Community Project” part of the nonprofit’s name. Last December, it held a toy drive, which led to 900 toys donated to Unity Shoppe. Recently, he and other members replaced a roof for a low-income elderly couple. According to Haeberle, wherever people are in need and the CHRP can help — whether through its volunteers’ labor, its tooling resources, or its network of connections — it wants to do so. “We are trying to be the grease in the gears of the machine that is the driving force behind the community.”

Dana Newquist, a big CHRP supporter, president of the Antique Automobile Club of America S.B. Region, and longtime co-chair of the Montecito Motor Classic, shared that Haeberle has inspired him and many others with his service to the community and has drawn together influential community members to assist with his endeavors.

At the event, “The Car Guy” Steve Ford served as the announcer. In an interview, Ford shared how he is drawn to help Haeberle any way he can. Ford sees Haeberle’s work as rare and significant given the challenges to young people to experience tools, manual competence, and an introduction to the skilled trades career path. The cost of the loss of shop classes, Ford cautions, has not yet been felt by mainstream society. Haeberle’s humility and persistence, Ford added, will enable him to succeed.  

The CHRP has assumed the operation of Cars and Coffee, now rebranded as Santa Barbara Cars and Coffee, every Sunday at Manning Park in Montecito, and it runs Coffee and Classics twice a month at Southcoast Church in Goleta.

Calls have been coming in from nearby counties wanting the CHRP to start programs in their areas, but Haeberle is focused on creating a flagship center in Santa Barbara and then will turn to replication across the country. Funding is needed for the facility, and Haeberle’s hope is that the CHRP’s myriad actions in service to the community will inspire community members to help.

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Supporters “The Car Guy” Steve Ford and car designer Mark Stehrenberger | Credit: Gail Arnold
Founder and President Kevin Haeberle with member/honoree Jeff Clark | Credit: Gail Arnold
Supporters Tony Handler, Roy “Ace” Miller, and Tim Gilles | Credit: Gail Arnold
Roy “Ace” Miller, honored as Car Guy of the Year by Steve Ford, with President Kevin Haeberle | Credit: Gail Arnold
Guests, including John Palminteri, enjoy the show. | Credit: Gail Arnold
Guests enjoy the show. | Credit: Gail Arnold
One of the Auto Show’s zones. | Credit: Gail Arnold