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Greensburg man meets Jay Leno, who's paying his tuition

Rick Morchesky of Greenburg and comedian Jay Leno meet at a West Coast car show. Morchesky is the recipient of the Jay Leno/Popular Mechanics scholarship at McPherson College, which offers the nation's only four-year bachelor's degree in automotive restoration. Morchesky plans to work on high-end antique and specialty vehicles, such as those in Leno's collection.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014, 11:11 p.m.
 

Even after winning a $20,000 scholarship named after television legend and car collector Jay Leno, Greensburg native Rick Morchesky, 22, didn't expect to meet the former host of “The Tonight Show.”

When the two did bump into each other it was by accident, at a car show in California.

“It was kind of a dream come true, because for any car guy, Jay Leno is kind of the ultimate of car guys,” Morchesky said.

Morchesky has always been a car guy. His parents, Richard and Carrie Morchesky, own Export Fuel Co., and he remembers hanging out in garages and tinkering with cars ever since he was a kid.

“It's always fun to do something your parents are doing,” he said. “When you're a little kid, your dad is really the only guy you know.”

Richard Morchesky, 55, has a collection of vintage muscle cars, including a Chevrolet Camaro, a Ford Mustang and the 1976 Bricklin that was the second car he ever owned. The first was lost in a fire.

He said his son has always shared his hobby.

“He's the old-school gearhead kid. A lot of kids his age are interested in ones they call the ‘tuner cars,' but he's always been more interested in the ‘American muscle cars,' ” he said.

Rick Morchesky never planned to make his hobby a career until his grandfather, Dick Morchesky, spotted a magazine ad for McPherson College in Kansas. McPherson is the nation's only college to offer a four-year program in automotive restoration.

Rick enrolled after graduating from Hempfield Area High School. He has been in the program three years now, and according to one of his professors, quickly impressed the faculty with his dedication.

“He really stood out among his colleagues for his dedication and his passion for automobiles and the quality of his work,” said professor Ed Barr. “It's funny. I can always tell who the really serious ones are on a Friday afternoon with me in the sheet metal lab, trying to improve their skills.”

Morchesky said he is just happy for the chance to learn.

“You learn everything — from paint, upholstery, machinery, to sheet metal,” he said.

Since 1999, the college has awarded one promising student an annual $20,000 Jay Leno/Popular Mechanics scholarship. Most years, at least two or three students are considered for the award, but when Morchesky was nominated, he was an obvious choice, Barr said.

“I remember nominating him, and there wasn't a word from anybody. It was all instantaneous agreement,” Barr said.

Morchesky was later asked to speak on behalf of the school at a car show, where he met Leno, the scholarship's sponsor and namesake. The two talked about McPherson, classic cars and the small race car Morchesky is building out of aluminum for his senior project.

“He was, honestly, one of the nicest guys,” Morchesky said of Leno, who owns about 80 rare, exotic cars, 80 motorcycles and a fire truck, according to media reports.

Morchesky is spending his summer working in a shop in Wisconsin, restoring the sheet metal on vintage Ferraris.

“I've really taken a liking to sheet metal restoration,” he said. “Metal can do basically three things. It can shrink, it can stretch and it can bend. By taking advantage of those combinations, you can reproduce all the curves on the car.”

When he graduates next year, he plans to go wherever he can find work, preferably one of the big auto restoration companies on the West or East coasts.

Barr believes Morchesky will have no trouble putting his skills to work.

“We know when he goes out there, he'll be able to do whatever he wants to do and represent us well,” Barr said.

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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