Monster dreams … around a track for Shelton student

At age 18, Daniel Tatun of Shelton knows what he wants to do for a living — and appears well on his way to achieving it.

The senior at Emmett O’Brien Vocational Technical High School plans to attend the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) this fall, helped by the $5,000 scholarship he recently earned by being part of a two-student team to win the Connecticut Auto Dealers Association’s statewide Auto-Tech Competition.

He will enroll in a 16-month program at UTI’s North Carolina campus to pursue a career as an auto technician. The school is in Mooresville, N.C., known as Race City USA, and specializes in NASCAR-related training.

Daniel hopes to parlay that skill set into working on a monster truck tour — first as a technician and then eventually as a driver.

“I want to get into the racing industry and race monster trucks,” he said.

Monster Jam tour

He and his father, John Tatun, recently spent some behind-the-scenes time on the Monster Jam tour in Las Vegas.

It’s a big business, with different touring teams traveling around the country.

“He’s making contacts with the monster industry,” John Tatun said. “It’s very professional and high-tech. And it’s a big family sport.”

Preparing for the nationals

This week, Daniel and his O’Brien Tech partner — Mike Altman of Ansonia — are participants in the National Automotive Technology Competition in New York City.

The two-day competition is being held at the Javits Center as part of the New York Auto Show. Daniel and Mike make up one of 30 teams from across the United States and Canada in the competition.

“I’m a little nervous because we’ll be competing against the best in the country,” Daniel said last week.

Working on a Mazda3

The team from O’Brien Tech in Ansonia will work on a 2013 Mazda3. Before going to New York, they spent time training at a Mazda dealer in Litchfield County.

“It’s fairly easy to work on compared to what we could have had,” Daniel said of the car.

He and Mike have become buddies in school. “We work really great together,” Daniel said. “We’re always joking around.”

During the state competition, auto pros purposely caused problems with vehicles’ engines — or what is called “bugging the car” — and the teams then had to diagnose, document and repair the problems.

Technology rules these days

Being an auto-tech these days means knowing how to use and interpret computer equipment.

“Everything is electrical these days, as compared to mechanical,” Daniel said. “If a computer is down or broken, a car won’t run.”

Even at age 18, he misses when more parts of a car — especially the engine — were mechanical. “They were easier to fix,” he said.

A technician has to be able to figure out what’s wrong, with the help of a scan tool. “Now you can test everything in a car without getting your hands greasy,” Daniel said.

Simpler wheels at home

When driving around Shelton and the Valley, Daniel’s wheels are a bit simpler than a monster truck. He drives a 1990 Honda Accord with 327,000 miles on it. His father bought the car used in 1993.

As might be expected, he’s pretty hands-on when it comes to maintenance. He changes oil, puts in brakes and replaces alternators, among other tasks.

One father-and-son project is fixing up a 1959 Chevrolet Suburban that Daniel’s father recently purchased.

John Tatun, a retired Norwalk firefighter, said he and his wife, Lisa, are proud of their son’s achievements and career plans. “He’s very focused,” John said. “He’s seeing that if you work hard, you will do well.”

Daniel's background

Daniel grew up in Shelton and was home-schooled, then spent a year of high school in South Carolina when his family briefly moved there. He gets high honors at O’Brien Tech.

He has one sister, Kelsey, who attends Shelton High. Both Daniel and John are White Hills fire volunteers.

Daniel has worked on some of the vehicles at the fire station — including a 1968 Dodge Power Wagon he helped get ready for the Memorial Day parade. “It’s all mechanical,” he said, with a smile.

His father is confident Daniel will succeed once he graduates from UTI, no matter what exact career path he pursues. “He’s guaranteed a job is what they’re telling him,” John said.