Real World: Future Auto Rising Stars Shine in Dearborn -
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Real World: Future Auto Rising Stars Shine in Dearborn

Aspiring auto technicians and rising seniors, Justin Dwyer and Matthew Ludwig from Faribault High School in Faribault, MN, recorded the best score in the 2009 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals.


In a showdown of the nation’s top high school automotive technology students, the two-person team from Faribault High School in Faribault, MN, emerged as the “best of the best” at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals in June.


The competition gives auto tech students the opportunity to showcase their automotive problem-solving capabilities by resolving “real world” repair challenges in a timed, head-to-head match-up of top teams representing all 50 states.   

Aspiring auto technicians and rising seniors, Justin Dwyer (see photo, left) and Matthew Ludwig (right) from Faribault High School in Faribault, MN, recorded the best score while crossing the finish line in 42 minutes and 51 seconds. The students recorded a “perfect car” as they correctly diagnosed and repaired all of the bugs.

The repairs included repairing the air conditioning blower, power windows and mirrors, and interior and exterior lights as well as properly diagnosing and repairing problems to the starter motor and air flow sensor. Their school instructor is Mark Lessman (center).


More than 9,700 high school juniors and seniors competed in this year’s competition with a record-high $10.7 million in scholarships offered. Following an online exam, the highest-scorers advanced to their states’ hands-on competition, with the top teams from each state competing June 16 in Dearborn, MI, at the National Finals.

The 50, two-student teams that gathered at AAA Michigan, located near Ford World Headquarters, also completed a 100-question written exam earlier in the week. Results of the written test were combined with the hands-on competition scores to determine the winning team.   

In addition to several scholarships, the winning duo also won the opportunity to work under the hood with the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 DEWALT Ford Fusion team at its Concord, NC, shop leading up to the August 2 Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway, where they served as honorary pit crew members.

Perfect Cars
Out of the 50 teams competing, only four were able to perfectly diagnosis and repair their vehicles without receiving any demerits. Besides the first-place Minnesota team, the states with perfect cars, in order of finish, were Colorado, Alabama and Texas.

Prior to the National Finals, competitors were awarded $9.9 million in scholarships during the state-level competitions. At the National Finals, the top-10 teams received additional full and partial scholarships from some of the leading automotive technology institutions in the country, including Lincoln College of Technology, University of Northwestern Ohio, Universal Technical Institute, Ohio Technical College and WyoTech. Lincoln College of Technology also provided partial scholarships to all of the national finalists.  


Additionally, the high schools of the top-15 teams in the competition will receive either a Ford Edge, Taurus or Fusion for training purposes in their  automotive technology departments.

“Each year, vehicles become more technologically advanced, which increases the safety and comfort of motorists as well as the need for a skilled, technically savvy workforce to service them,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA Automotive, vice president. “The students competing in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills are the future of the automotive industry. Part of AAA’s commitment to provide motorists with solutions for all their automotive needs includes ensuring they have reliable, quality auto repair options both now and in the future.”

After Doney gave the “start your engines, if you can,” command to begin the national finalists’ race to their assigned cars, the competitors had 90 minutes to accurately diagnose and correctly repair the deliberate “bugs” placed in the Ford Escape models.

“Supporting talented young individuals in this skills competition is one reason why the Ford Motor Company sees a solid future for this industry,” said Darryl Hazel, president, Ford Customer Service Division. “This competition provides education and scholarships that will help these students thrive in the automotive industry through a number of career options, including valuable positions within Ford’s dealer network.”


Did You Know…
This year marked the 60th year of the annual competition, which first began in 1949 when Harry Truman was in office. This year, AAA marks its 25th year with the competition, serving as a co-sponsor since 1984. Ford Motor Company celebrates its 15th year involved in the competition.

The Top-15 Teams in the 2009 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals Were:

1. Minnesota (Justin Dwyer, Matthew Ludwig) Faribault High School, Faribault, MN, instructed by Mark Lessman

2. Colorado (Charles Duran, Dylan Keyes) Doherty High School, Colorado Springs, CO, instructed by Brad Wheaton

3. Alabama (Zach Evans, Jared Hudson) Albert P Brewer High School, Somerville, AL, instructed by Robert Bryson

4. Texas (Juan Correa, Andrew McConnell) Birdville Career Center, Halton City, TX, instructed by Olin R. Harrington

5. California (Eric Reed, Doug Rinnell) San Luis Obispo High School, San Luis Obispo, CA, instructed by Jeff Lehmkuhl

6. New York (Mike Palladino, Andrew Matthys) Wayne Tech & Career Center, Williamson, NY, instructed by Chet Kuhn

7. Kansas (Joseph Vanderputten, Dillon Percival) Kaw Area Tech School, Topeka, KS, instructed by Robert Oswald

8. Indiana (Jarrett Coberly, Nicholas Vogler) Pike Central High School, Petersburg, IN, instructed by Buddy Lee

9. Arkansas (Brandon and Nolan Hildalgo – twin brothers) Jacksonville High School, Jacksonville, AK, instructed by Shawn Poindexter

10. Iowa (Cody Gudenkauf, Michael Hermsen) West Delaware High School Manchester, IA, instructed by Jason Guyer

11. Kentucky (Jesse Bardis, Austin White) Shelby Co Area Tech Center, Shelbyville, KY, instructed by Bruce Edwards

12. Wisconsin (Kieron Kohlmann, Jonathan Ramczyk) Washington Park High School, Racine, WI, instructed by David Dixon

13. Oklahoma (Jeffrey Dill, Jack Gibson) Eastern Oklahoma Co Tech Center, Choctaw, OK, instructed by Jim LaFevers

14. Hawaii (Chester Lee Coloma, Edler Espiritu) Maui High School, Kahului, HI, instructed by Shannon Rowe

15. Wyoming (Alfred Hefenieder, Jesse Hernandez) Worland High School, Worland, WY, instructed by Mike Sapp

For information on competing in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills, visit

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