SWEETWATER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A Texas State Technical College (TSTC) student in Sweetwater is taking a childhood passion and turning it into a career — and he’s doing it all as a first-generation college student.

“When I figured out I can make money just playing with cars, I figured that’s just the goal right there,” said David Lopez-Cortez.

Lopez-Cortez is an automotive student at TSTC Sweetwater set to graduate in December.

Wednesday, he was working on an old Jeep that weighs about 3,500 pounds, a much bigger model than what ignited his passion.

“I had all the Hot Wheels sets and whatnot,” said Lopez-Cortez.

Hot Wheels are usually just a toy for a kid that they end up throwing away, but for David, it turned into a career path.

“I just went from playing Hot Wheels, to playing video games, to doing research on cars,” said Lopez-Cortez.

By the time he got his first set of wheels, he was ready to get under the hood.

“I loved just seeing how it was designed at first and then basically taking it apart and seeing if I could put it back in that same order,” said Lopez-Cortez.

Just like car repair comes with its uphill battles, his path to success does, too.

David says it’s the lessons he learned from his father about hard work that will push him forward.

“It makes me want people to like, remember my name. I want to be known by like, a first-name status just at how my dad is,” he says. “So I want to be that person that, ‘Oh take it to David, take it to this.’ So it really does set like, a higher value for me to be the best of me basically.”

David will graduate in December and start working on full-sized cars for a living, but he says he’ll never forget the smaller wheels that got him started.

David’s stepmom also graduated from TSTC, with a degree in Culinary Arts.