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- Owner-operator Fritz Elmhorst puts his competitiveness to good use
Testing 1, 2, 3
There are competitive venues for nearly every human endeavor: spelling bees, the Olympics, NASCAR, the World Cup, Miss Teen USA, the Soap Box Derby and, of course, the Guinness Book of World Records. Since 2005, the nation’s truck mechanics (or technicians, in the vernacular of the trade) have also had a contest to find their “best of the best”: SuperTech, an annual event that coincides with the fall meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC).
SuperTech, organized and largely sponsored by TMC, has two basic goals: promote the stature of heavy-automotive technicians and generate industry “buzz” that attracts more young people into the field of vehicle repair and maintenance.
This year marked the third annual SuperTech competition, and nearly twice as many technicians signed up to test their skills — 112, compared to 60 the first year. Officials expect the increase to continue, and they’re making plans to accommodate ever-bigger crowds in 2008.
“We’re looking at facilities that will allow us to set up more work stations,” says Lee Long, an organizer and director of maintenance for Southeastern Freight Lines in Columbia, S.C. “We are also considering an extra day of hands-on testing.”
At present, SuperTech is a two-day, two-stage process. It starts with a qualifying written exam that narrows the field of contenders to a preset number. In 2005, 50 people were allowed to proceed to the workstation segment the next day. This year, a whoppin’ 84 made it to the second round, thanks to the addition of a few extra test stations and administrators.
Just competing in SuperTech is an achievement in itself. Most of the participants have won previous, and equally demanding, skills events hosted by either their employer or a state-level trucking association. Nearly all of them are members of corporate-sponsored teams, representing the best and brightest these companies have to offer. Ten TA technicians competed this year, and Jerry Bodkins of the Youngstown, Ohio TA scored a win in the Tires & Wheels category.
But David Bryan Lewis, a Wal-Mart employee who works in the maintenance facility at a distribution center in Sutherland, Va., went home with the grand prize this year. Lewis is no stranger to winning. He’s taken top honors in Wal-Mart’s own national technicians’ competition six times during the past decade. He also placed in the top 10 at last year’s SuperTech. Despite this record, he’s not quite satisfied just yet. He hopes to return next year and accomplish something no one else has: to be named top SuperTech two years in a row.
“I’m already qualified for 2008,” he says.