Technician Competition

I've been around the commercial vehicle industry for many years now (never you mind how many). As with any "veteran," I have seen much and had many unique experiences.

Therefore, I feel I am well-qualified to make judgments about industry events. And I must say, the Technology & Maintenance Council's National Technician Skills competition, TMC SuperTech, is outstanding.

I attended my first SuperTech, which is touted as "North America's premier skills competition for professional commercial vehicle technicians." It was held this past September 14 to 17 at the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now in its fifth year, this annual event, organized by the TMC's Professional Technician Development Committee (PTDC), is held in conjunction with TMC's Annual Fall Meeting. The theme of that meeting was High-Performance Maintenance Strategies. There were sessions and displays centering around the environmental, economic and regulatory challenges that our industry faces today and in the coming years.

TMC, a technical council of American Trucking Associations, developed the competition as a way to recognize truck technicians and promote the career opportunities for heavy truck technicians. Contestants come from all segments of the trucking industry. Many are state, regional or corporate champions.

I would liken the SuperTech to an Olympic competition. You could feel the tension and competitiveness in the air.

Talk about pressure. As the competitors performed at each 25-minute-long skills station, a judge and others shadowed their every move, all the while grading them and making notes on a clipboard.

I don't know anyone who enjoys someone looking over their shoulder, much less being observed while under a time constraint to do something for a grade.

That's too much stress for me. I never have tested well, even when not being watched. My admiration for the competitors grew.

While all business during the SuperTech events, it was nice to see that they shared a special friendship when between tests and away from the contest. A technician I spoke with explained this by saying: "I think a lot of us aren't really in competition with anybody but ourselves. We want to do our best."

Also impressive was the logistical operation that took place to make the SuperTech happen. Vehicles and equipment had to be borrowed and brought in, skill stations set up and staffed, judges for the competition found and trained and a staff of other volunteers assembled to handle the various tasks and duties to make certain the event went well. And, of course, there needed to be "overseers" for all of this.

I was surprised to learn that more than 172 judges representing 125 companies, in addition to the 30 PTDC committee members, were involved in the planning and conducting TMC SuperTech2009.

I am proud to note that Fleet Maintenance Magazine is a platinum-level sponsor of the TMC SuperTech.

The competition involves qualifying professional commercial vehicle technicians demonstrating their diagnostic abilities and problem-solving skills through a series of hands-on skill challenges. There were 82 contestants at the competition.

To advance to the skills part of the SuperTech competition, contestants had to successfully pass three qualifying challenges - a written test and two tests based on TMC Recommended Practices.

New to this year's competition, attendance at TMC's PTDC Technician Training Fair earned SuperTech contestants additional points for the competition. The Fair was a series of hands-on training sessions covering such areas as HVAC system maintenance, SCR systems, advanced safety systems and electrical system repairs.

Christopher Tate, refrigeration technician for Mohawk Truck, Seneca, NY, earned the rank of grand champion of TMC SuperTech2009. He was also the winner of three skills stations: Tire & Wheel, Wheel End and Written Test. He finished tenth overall last year.

Along with his trophy, Tate was awarded a NEXIQ Technologies' Snap-On two-piece Classic 78 model tool chest valued at approximately $8,000; a Midtronics Celltron MAX battery analysis system (CMA7000) valued at $1,100; a trip for two to the Daytona 500; Noregon Systems' JPRO Fleet Diagnostic Kit; a custom-made championship leather jacket; $600 in gift cards; and other items.

Technicians Rick Grivel and Christopher Barnett both with Ryder System, Alpharetta, GA, took the second- and third-place honors, respectively. Each received the Midtronics Celltron MAX battery analysis system.
Grivel was the winner of the Fifth Wheel skills station; Barnett, Steering & Suspension.

Michael Bogard, Neenah, WI, also with Ryder System, captured fourth place. He was last year's third-place winner and earned the top score on the written portion of the competition the previous three years.

The other top 10 finishers: fifth place - Michael John Vallery, Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Portland, OR; sixth - Grant Allen Cherry, Wal-Mart Transportation, Pilot Rock, OR; seventh - Richard Zacholl, Swift Transportation, N. Syracuse, NY; eighth - Jimmie Slusher, Ryder System, Elizabethton, TN; ninth - Ray Wordekemp, Omaha Truck Center, Omaha, NE; and tenth - Thomas Pianalto, Diamond International Trucks, Lowell, AR.

The other TMC SuperTech2009 skills stations winners, each of whom was awarded various prizes, were: Fastener & Fastener Repair - William O'Brien, Con-Way Freight, Bells, TN; Starting & Charging - Norbert Estrada, TravelCenters of America, Gary, IN; Drivetrain - Thomas Pianalto, Diamond International Trucks, Lowell, AR; PMI - John Ragland, FedEx Express, Tonganoxie, KS; Electrical - Matthew McRae, Swift Transportation., Salt Lake City, UT.

Trailer Alignment - Dean Sehm, Ryder System, Litchfield Park, AZ; Service Information - Tyson Sontag, McKee Foods Transportation, Gentry, AR; Repair Order - Richard Zacholl, Swift Transportation, N. Syracuse, NY; Engine (Hardware) - Mitch Thielking, Batesville Logistics, Batesville, IN; Engine (Electronics) - Ray Wordekemp, Omaha Truck Center, Omaha, NE.

Nine winners from 2009 state technician skills competitions participated in TMCSuperTech2009. They were: Arkansas - Tyson W. Sontag, McKee Foods Transportation, Gentry; Kentucky - Edwin D. Lawrence III, M&M Cartage, Louisville; Nebraska - Tim Zieman, Omaha Truck Center, Lincoln; New York - Tate from Mohawk Truck, West Seneca; Oklahoma - Max L. E. Dennis, City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City.

Oregon - Michael John Vallery, Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Portland; South Carolina - Kevin Schwarzbauer, Carolina International Trucks, Columbia; Tennessee - Corey A. Sellers, Ozark Motor Lines, Lebanon; and Texas - Mark Deen, Cummins Southern Plains, Arlington.

I am looking forward to next year's TMC SuperTech. You might want to plan on attending as well. I can assure you, it will be time well spent.

TMC's 2010 Fall Meeting & National Technician Skills Competition is planned for next September 20 to 23, once again at the Raleigh Convention Center.