Anxious parents sat on their hands and watched as their children competed to be Northern California's top high school automotive technology team.
In the East Bay, where unemployment rose into double digits last month, these are young people who know exactly where they are going and what they want to do.
And the worse the economy gets, the better their prospects.
"Folks are wanting to retain their vehicles much longer, so the need for skilled technicians is definitely there," judge Rob Stringari said.
Stringari created the ghosts in the machines. His devious twiddling made life difficult for the 20 high school students that competed in teams of two.
Each of the cars was identical, with 10 identical and elusive problems for the teams to find and repair.
Judges looked at time, quality and accuracy.
Winning teams from each state will earn scholarships and prizes and advance to the national finals held in Michigan.