The issue, a bad head gasket, which means removing the entire top half of the engine, replacing the gasket, and putting everything back together correctly, now most shop manuals say that the average head gasket job should take 3-5 hours, so diagnosing the problem and getting it done in just two hours is a monumental task. As time ticks down the first competitor completed the challenge, followed closely by the second and third tech to finish, just two finalists remain, but because of the way judging works, neither is out of the race for the grand prize.
With just a few minutes left, the fourth competitor completes the task, and as the buzzer sounds off at the two-hour market one loan tech is still working on his engine. Tools down, the judges move in to check the work and tally the final score that will determine the winner of the $40,000 grand prize. The crew also must set up the arena for the student competition which is just a few hours out. The student finalists, knowing what to expect in the challenge are already formulating their plans, the top five student competitors also have an additional layer of rivalry, since they all happen to be from the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) automotive technology program. UNOH happens to be one of the top schools for motorsports in the country and was an early sponsor of the USATNC. While students from other schools had made it to Nashville, UNOH students set the pace and led the competition early, so it was no surprise that they dominated the finals.
The final student started fast since they already knew what they needed to fix, however, part of what they would be judged on included documenting cylinder compression, so they couldn’t skip steps. Just as with the pros, one contestant finished well before the others and others ran until the clock ran out. But as we learned in previous rounds, the winner is likely never the one who finished first.
The final break before the announcement of the winners had everyone nervous with anticipation, a lot was riding on the line as the winner of each category would be taking home $40,000, with second place earning $20,000, and third place $10,000, that means two of the final five would be leaving home empty-handed and since the judges had to verify the quality of the repair it was anyone’s game.
The arena was reset for the awards ceremony, the students would be first to find out their fate, with Randy Giroux taking home the first-place prize in the student category. In the pros, Logan Brown would be declared the National Champion and bring the title home to Lebanon, Pennsylvania. In both categories as the crew and judges said, the tech that finished in the quickest time was not the overall winner.
For a first-year competition, I was impressed by how well run it all was, but what was more impactful was the commitment from the sponsors and organizers to put on an event that celebrates the men and women of the trades. Having grown up on a ranch with family and friends that worked in the trades it was exciting to see these hardworking people celebrated like rockstars. Many times, these jobs are not only dirty and hard… but thankless. The USATNC is a catalyst to change that perception highlighting that a job as an auto technician can take you as far as you are willing to dream and that it can be as exciting as turning wrenches on the latest racing machines, or as important as making sure that a working mom has a safe vehicle when she leaves your shop. I am excited to see how this competition grows next year and the impact it will make on the automotive industry.
For more visit www.usatnc.com
The USATNC was made possible by marketing and production agency, Intersport and sponsors: Garage Gurus, 7-Eleven, Duluth Trading Co., Little Giant Ladder Systems, ServiceTitan, Discount Tire, and the University of Northwestern Ohio.