Lewis, who will return as the two-time defending champion next year, says any technicians who missed the cut this year should have ample incentive to study up and come back even better in '09.
"You hate to see people cut out, but that's competition," he says. "If you stub your toe and stumble one little bit, you can count on the next competitors to take the ball and run with it. It tells the guys, 'I've identified a weak area I'm in; I need to study hard for the next time.'
If you sit back on your heels and rest, you'll be a spectator."
ASE's Hornicek credits the growth of the competition to the energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved.
"Bottom line--it's the volunteer efforts of the fleets, manufacturers and trainers that make this a great success," he says.
"Every year gets better."
Of course, you cannot have a competition without judges, and 227 dedicated volunteers from 118 companies were on hand to help evaluate the competitors, like WyoTech diesel instructor Chad Parsons, who returned after a one-year hiatus to serve as an engine judge.
Judges have the sometimes difficult task of learning their what their station will feature just a day before the event, yet must know the troubleshooting problems in and out before being able to evaluate technicians. Arrants says the secrecy-as well as other measures taken by the committee-helps ensure a fair competition.
"They know what workstation they're assigned to, but they don't know what is going to be expected from the technicians until that day, so that limits any massive knowledge of people knowing what's going on," Arrants says.
Parsons faced a bit of a challenge when he found out he was tasked to grade technicians on the DD15-an engine he had precious little time working with.
"We were originally told we were going to do the DD15s and started to build our preparation off that, and then were told about a month into it that we could not get enough to do the job, so we switched up," he says. "We were then told the Thursday before the show we were switched up again and were going to the DD15s."
Unfortunately, WyoTech did not have any of the engines on hand, so the next day, Parsons and his fellow WyoTech engine judges traveled to a nearby Freightliner dealer to get a crash course.
"We got to build our problem and test it right there in about two hours-it worked out good," he says.
Despite the last-minute scramble, Parsons says serving as a TMCSuperTech judge was once again a great experience.
"It's the satisfaction of being involved-seeing what the industry really is doing," he says. "We get to see first-hand, the guys out there in the field and their capabilities, and what do we need to do to make sure these techs stay on top of their game? If we go through and watch 10 guys do the same problem, not all 10 do the same, and you'll walk away with more knowledge because you've seen 10 different approaches to one problem."
Charles Ralston, Midwestern technician trainer for TA/Petro travel centers, participated as a judge (HVAC) for the first time after twice competing as a technician. He says while his new job is not easy, it's much less stressful that competing and is very valuable for his work.
"I got a lot out of this event-mainly the ways that techs go about diagnosing problems," he says. "I could see where people have problems and try to work on this with my techs, and I also saw the good ways. This is a place for them to show how good they really are, and also what needs more work."
Ralston says the competition provides lessons for both competitors and judges alike, and urged fleet professionals to send their employees next year to see the benefits for themselves.
"More people should come to this event to see what they need to work on to further their career," he says. "When I went in 2005, I didn't know what to expect; I thought I was the big fish in the small pond, and then I got thrown into the ocean. It gave me a lot to work on and made me a better tech."
Roger Maye of Consolidated Metro has served as the Wheel End Skills Station chairman since the station was added in 2006, and says it is important for station chairmen to include a wide variety of judges from across the industry-even your biggest competitors.