Dearborn, MI In late June, 50 two-person student teams from across the country competed against each other, and against the clock, to accurately diagnose and fix vehicles in the 2006 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals. The competition took place June 27 in Dearborn, MI Henry Fords hometown.
Two aspiring techs, Bradley Bolton and Aaron Clay, seniors at Paris High School in Paris, TX, only needed 29 minutes and 34 seconds to accurately diagnose and fix their Ford Mustang Convertible and win the auto skills contest.
I, along with Tomorrow’s Technician publisher Beth Skove and BRAKE & FRONT END editor Andrew Markel, served as a Team Judges for the contest. This was my sixth year serving as a judge at the national finals, and this year, I was fortunate enough to be assigned as Team Judge for the Paris, TX, duo.
I have to say it was quite a thrill to see Bradley and Aaron be the first pair to drop their hood, which is the signal for the timekeeper to stop their clock. And even though they were the first team done with the hands-on skills part of the contest, the pair wasnt feeling over-confident.
While they were packing up their tools and equipment, you could tell they were still nervous and were asking each other if they checked the various repair order problems. In fact, while driving through the short road test en route to the finish line, I asked them how they thought they did on the written portion of the test. Both reported to me that they thought they did OK.
Only when we went through final judging and were told they had a clean car meaning all of the bugs were diagnosed and repaired did Team Texas show relief in their expressions. The pair, who spent months preparing for the competition with their instructor, Michael Schmidt, took home thousands of dollars in prizes and scholarships to a number of the nation’s top auto technology colleges. Hoping to encourage students to pursue automotive careers, Ford and AAA handed out a total of more than $6 million in prizes to the competition’s participants.
Aaron and Bradley today proved they are America’s most auto savvy teens, Allan Stanley, manager of Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills, said. Their hard work and drive to be the top high school auto technicians is typical of every participant here. The auto industry must attract such dedicated young people to keep America’s vehicles operating safely and trouble-free. Second place went to Travis Bradfield and Ken Netcher, seniors at Vale High School in Vale, OR. Mark Mitchell and Raymond Swan, seniors at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, IL, took third place. Teams placing second through 10th in the Ford/AAA contest received general education scholarships valued from $2,000 to $400 from Ford Motor Co. and AAA as well as partial scholarships to top-rated auto tech colleges.
Even though the Texas team I oversaw this year was done in just under 30 minutes, I look upon all of the contestants as winners. I’ve served as a Team Judge in past years for teams that came in near the end of the timed contest. But in my book, they are still the best of the best in this competition, because in order to get here, they had to outperform outstanding teams in their home state.
And, as the editor of a magazine that is distributed throughout the year to more than 50,000 automotive students, it’s exciting to see the enthusiasm these young men and women bring to the contest. Virtually all of them plan to enter the automotive service and repair industry after graduation. And, I know there will be plenty of jobs waiting for the Ford/AAA contestants and other students currently enrolled in automotive programs across the country.
In fact, for AAA and Ford, competitions such as this serve as an insurance policy for the future of the industry.
Millions of car owners depend on well-trained auto technicians to maintain and repair their vehicles, said John Nielsen, director of the AAA Approved Auto Repair program. Co-sponsoring the Auto Skills contest, as we have since 1984, is one way AAA ensures that consumers’ vehicles are properly cared for at all AAA-inspected and approved repair facilities.
Darryl Hazel, senior vice president of Ford Motor Company and president, Ford Customer Service Division, said, Ford and its dealer network offer these contestants and other talented young people unparalleled opportunities to train for a high-tech career with excellent salaries.
Increasingly, technician positions provide such benefits as insurance coverage, paid vacations, and retirement savings programs. Co-sponsoring the Auto Skills competition enables Ford to keep attracting the best young technicians to our professional technician training programs and to careers in our dealer network, Hazel said.
Note: Photos and additional reporting for this article was courtesy of AAA.
About the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals
Each year, the Student Auto Skills competition determines the nation’s best high school auto techs through a two-part test. Following a written exam counting towards 40% of their overall score, the 50 two-person teams – each representing a state – convened outside Ford World Headquarters the morning of June 27th for the hands-on portion, worth 60% of their total. Responding to the call, Gentlemen, start your engines, if you can, at 9:15 a.m., the teams raced to 50 2006 Ford Mustang Convertibles with identical mechanical problems. After popping the hood, they had 90 minutes to diagnose and repair numerous bugs in the starting, charging, ignition, electrical, lighting, braking, climate control and/or power train systems. The team from Texas drove their car across the finish line, winning the contest after judges determined they had removed all the bugs.
Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Top 10
1st Place Texas: Aaron Clay and Bradley J. Bolton, Paris High School, Paris, TX.
2nd Place Oregon: Travis Bradfield and Ken Netcher, Vale High School, Vale, OR.
3rd Place Illinois: Mark Mitchell and Raymond Swan, Willowbrook High School, Villa Park, IL.
4th Place Ohio: Zachary Haynes and Christopher Strickland, Buckeye Hills Career Center, Rio Grande, OH
5th Place Hawaii: Glen Bissell and Joey Hoopai Souza, Maui High School, Kahului, HI.
6th Place Michigan: Jeffrey Elder and Anthony Fraley, St. Clair County Tech, Marysville, MI.
7th Place Nebraska: Tyler Covert and Ben Dikeman, North Platte High School, North Platte, NE.
8th Place Maine: Bryan Conley and Kyle Simpson, Portland Arts and Tech High School, Portland, ME.
9th Place Tennessee: Justin Burris and David Pomeroy, Polk County High School, Benton, TN.
10th Place Alabama: Cody Oelberg and Jared White, Winfield City High School, Winfield, AL.