Bonita’s Danica Patrick Helps Automotive Tech Students See Checkered Flag

March 10, 2012
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Bonita automotive tech instructor Priscilla Ruiz is revved up about the upcoming BHS Auto Shop Car Show, March 24.

Bonita automotive tech instructor Priscilla Ruiz is revved up about the upcoming BHS Auto Shop Car Show, March 24.

Try not to look over to the fast lane, but Bonita High School and the La Verne community have their own version of Danica Patrick, the only woman to win the IndyCar Series.

Like Patrick, Bonita’s Priscilla Ruiz, the school’s auto shop instructor, likes to go fast, but after a serious 2008 motorcycle accident hospitalized her with multiple injuries, her career with cars and two-wheelers veered off in a different direction. 

“In the hospital, I had a little time to think,” Ruiz said. “I decided that I needed to do something that was worth more to somebody else than just chasing a dollar. I’m not about chasing the buck. I just needed to do something that would make a difference.”

Putting racing in the rear view mirror wasn’t easy. Like Patrick, Ruiz is 29, their birthdays are only days apart. Growing up, she idolized the queen of speed.

“I watched her career advance,” Ruiz reflected. “I wanted to be that race car driver. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

Choosing to stand up in front of a classroom instead of sitting behind the wheel wasn’t a complete reversal of the direction she had been headed. Ruiz had always been a smart gear head and automobile lover, and a huge fan of muscle cars, in particular.

At Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, she drove a 1966 Mustang. “It was the most beat-up car you ever saw,” she said fondly. To keep her “beater” on the road, she took auto shop. “There wasn’t extra money lying around when I was growing up,” Ruiz said.

After graduation, she enrolled in the Citrus College auto tech program, obtaining her associate degree, and then transferred to Cal State Los Angeles, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in industrial technology. She put herself through school working as an auto tech.

Working in such a male-dominated industry had its challenges. “When I started, I’ll be honest with you,” she said from insider her No. 305 classroom, “it was tough. I was an 18-year-old female working in a shop. I started at the bottom mopping floors and getting flack from men. I just learned early on in life that whatever issues people have that’s on them. I’m here to do a job.”

Her job was to get her degree. “I wanted to be a technician, and I ended up being a certified master tech, and I did that for several years.”

Indeed, after graduation from Cal State Los Angeles, where she was also a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, she went to work for Huntington Beach-based JE Pistons, where she began designing pistons.


Her career was cruising along until Dec. 28, 2008, a Sunday in the middle of the day, when a drunk driver sideswiped her Honda CBR (600 RR) motorcycle.  She doesn’t remember the crash, only waking up the next day in the hospital.

“The only thing I cried about, besides the fact that I was all in pain was that I lost my motorcycle,” she recalled. “That was devastating for me.”

After she found she was able to wiggle her toes and move her arms and talk, she resolved that she would be working again within a year of her accident — not designing pistons, but teaching.

Finally back on her feet after a long rehabilitation, she landed a position as a temporary auto instructor at Citrus College, where she had always enjoyed great support from the faculty. There she learned that Scott Wilcox, who had headed Bonita’s auto shop classes for three decades in addition to teaching at Citrus, was going to retire.

“I came knocking on his door,” Ruiz said. “I pretty much was going to show my face every day until I was told to either go away or I would get the job as a school teacher in the district.”

When Ruiz got the nod, she went in to overdrive to obtain all the certifications qualifying her to teach. She got them and greeted students for the 2010-11 school year as Bonita’s new auto shop instructor. It was a smooth hand-off, with Wilcox visiting monthly to mentor her.

“I walked into a great situation here,” Ruiz said humbly.

Yet, she has already begun to put her stamp on the place. For one, the shop is as clean as a whistle.  “I will have a fit it’s not clean; if you want to see an angry little lady,” she said, her voice trailing off. “My mom always taught me to leave a place as clean, if not cleaner than you found it.”

The shop, however, doesn’t come fully loaded. There are a dozens of items Ruiz has placed on her wish list, among them, more on-board diagnostic scanners, digital multi-meters, chargers, hand tools and a few cars that didn’t roll off the assembly line in the last century. The newest car in the shop is a 2002 Ford Expedition, an antique by today’s standards.

“I would love to see some newer models, at least some that my current kids have grown up with,” she said.

Mind you, Ruiz isn’t complaining. She’s used to working for everything she gets. That’s why she and her students will host the Bonita Auto Shop Car Show on March 24 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the student parking lot on D Street. There will be two bands, food concessions, and at least 40 cars and motorcycles on display.”

“It started with two cars, and now it’s blowing up, and we still have a couple of weeks to go,” Ruiz said, sounding clearly revved up about the fundraiser. Admission is free to the public. If an owner wants to display his or her car or motorcycle, the registration fee is $25 or $20 with an ASB card.

“We have some awesome cars,” Ruiz said. “Hot rods, trucks, lifted, raised, off-road, those little Ford Scouts, a couple of imports.”

Ruiz’s own 2006 Honda S2000 will also be in the show. How passionate and particular is she about her little baby? She flew to Houston, Texas to pick it up last year because it was the only Honda model she could find featuring a white exterior and all-black interior. As for other color combinations she could have found, without flying to Houston and then driving all the way back to L.A., she said, “I just thought that was tacky.”

There’s nothing tacky about Ruiz. She’s the real deal. Oil runs in her veins. “I’m fascinated by technology,” she said. “I’m fascinated by electric cars and hybrids. I did a little bit of work at Cal State L.A. with an electric Porsche there and a super-mileage vehicle through SAE. I’m just fascinated by technology and the entire automotive industry.”

Of course, the biggest winners are her students. Her life-changing incident has put on a new course, a better course. “I have 140 students,” she said. “They’re all my responsibility now.”

Bonita Car Show: 3102 D. Street, La Verne. For more info, contact Priscilla Ruiz, Automotive Technology Teacher, at or (909) 971-8220, x1134. Also visit

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