Jeffrey Schlecht, Omaha TruckCenter, has earned the title of Grand Champion

At TMCSuperTech, the national technician skills competition of the American Trucking Association’s Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC), the difference in scores between first and 10th place was a mere 90 out of 1,700 possible points. When all of the points were tallied, Jeffrey Schlecht, Omaha TruckCenter Inc., Norfolk, Neb., had the most, making him Overall Grand Champion for 2010. "I am shocked, speechless," he said when he accepted the top honor. In addition to receiving the coveted crystal trophy, diagnostic and scan tools worth $3,800, a year’s connection to online repair information and a new rolling tool chest, Schlecht earned a trip for two to next year’s Daytona 500 NASCAR race. Minutes later, he remained in awe. “I still can’t believe it; it’s unreal,” he remarked.

What helped him to prepare to be a winner? He credits being a night shop foreman for five years, which he said gave him a more rounded experience, and had him dealing with more customers. He also wrote a lot of repair orders (which may explain his top finish in that skills station in the competition) working night shift and weekends. Even though Schlecht, 27, was competing for the first time at TMCSuperTech, he already had some experience as top technician. He placed second two years in a row at the Nebraska State competition and first in the second year of his Freightliner dealership’s company-wide competition this year. He explained that his interest in being a tech started with motorcycles, both dirt and street bikes, but he was drawn to the heavy-duty industry by his father, who also worked on trucks. Schlecht, a WyoTech graduate who enjoys trouble-shooting the best, has worked on trucks for eight years now. His advice to those looking to become a grand champion is "Just stay clam and just follow procedures like you do every day."

To be eligible to compete in TMC’s sixth technician contest in Raleigh, N.C., more than 90 technicians from across the U.S. had to pass the written exam to demonstrate their knowledge. They then had to show their expertise by performing tasks at 14 specific skill stations encompassing engine mechanical, engine electronics, electrical systems, drivetrain, fasteners, fifth wheels, wheel ends, steering and suspensions, tires and wheels, starting and charging, PMI, trailer alignment, repair orders and service information. The technicians’ performance on each of the 25-minute hands-on tests determined the final standings. For each contestant, there was a judge, plus observers and technical consultants, drawn from the ranks of TMC members, industry vendors and nationally-known trucking firms. Bonnie Karim, U.S. Postal Service, served as Professional Technician Development Committee chairwoman.

Winners were announced at an awards luncheon as part of the TMC’s 2010 fall meeting. Among the technicians competing were three who had participated in all six TMCSuperTechs and three past grand champions. At the luncheon, returning contest chairman George Arrants of Delmar Cengage Learning reminded contestants that their work is not just a job, but a community service. "You keep families safe because you’re properly repairing commercial vehicles."

The organizers have made every effort to keep the skills challenges fresh—and difficult— even for returning participants, but, as Arrants noted, "To recognize the hard work and pain I put you through, the rewards have increased." A growing list of corporations stepped up to provide $3,000 in gift cards, plus other prizes (tools, software, netbook computers and more) for skill station winners. Donors included American Express, Autometer, Carquest, Cengage, ConMet, CoParts, Fluke, Imperial Supply, Mac Tools, Midtronics, Mitchell 1, Noregon Systems, Reliance Supply, SKF and Snap-On.

Eric Vos, FedEx Freight, Harrison, Ark. placed second. Vos, who was participating in his fourth SuperTech and has been with FedEx six years, said his company encouraged him all the way, every year. “Its been really nice working with them." He won the tire and wheel station in 2008 and the Engine-Mechanical station this year, said he likes to work on engines more than anything else. His advice to prospective competitors?"Just keep at it, study — and have fun."

John Ragland, FedEx Express, Kansas City, Kan., placed third overall. The steering/suspension and trailer alignment station top finisher, Ragland called the event “a great learning experience because you challenge yourself and test your knowledge of what you know.” He spends a lot of time studying the TMC recommended practices manuals, and has learned from his three previous experiences at the event to "Just study hard.”

Finishing fourth to 10th place were: Michael Vallery, Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. (Ore.); Mike Bogard, Ryder System Inc. (Tenn.); Richard Zacholl, Swift Transportation Co. Inc. (N.Y.); Bailey Johnson, McKee Foods Transportation LLC (Va.); Christopher Barnett, Ryder System Inc. (Ky.); Phillip Mellor, Swift Transportation Co. Inc. (N.M.); and Grant Cherry, Wal-Mart Transportation LLC (Ore.)

Contest chairman Arrants added that it’s not necessary to win even a single skill station and still be a grand champion. All it takes is consistently good performance across all skill stations to win. Jerry Bodkins, ASE Master Technician from TravelCenters of America in Salem, Ohio, a four-time participant, said of the contests, "They get tougher every year, no doubt about it." He prepares by studying the recommended practices manuals. If you don‘t, “You’ll never know if you did something stupid that cost you the 10 points that kept you from winning." His advice to aspiring competitors: "Study hard and pay attention to detail — and safety first. Otherwise, you’ll lose points for safety violations at every station.”
Robert Marshal of technician school UNOH in Lima, Ohio, and chairman of the engine-mechanical station, agreed. "Many techs don’t read the instructions or manual first and lose valuable safety points."

Both Wyotech and UNOH each announced the winners of two, full-tuition scholarships at TMCSuperTech. Marshal of UNOH said technician scholarships at his school are going wanting. The application process simply requires a current TMC member to recommend an aspiring heavy-duty technician and the applicant to write a few paragraphs on why he or she wants to be in the industry.

The seventh TMCSuperTech event returns to the Raleigh Convention Center Sept. 19-22, 2011. FE

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