And the winners are …

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A lot of folks might think snagging the “grand champion” trophy at a truck technician “rodeo” might be nothing than a nice platitude for a tough, high pressure job.

That is, until you get a look at the purse the “grand champions” for the 2012 Rush Technician Skills Rodeo take home: $19,500 in cash and prizes for the medium-duty grand champion and $20,500 in cash and prizes for the heavy-duty champ – along with a raise of $1.25 per hour for each of them as well.

That’s nothing anyone would sniff at, I think!

But it certainly wasn’t easy for either for John Dobberpuhl, the 2012 Rush medium duty grand champion (on the left in the photo at right), or Jason Swann, the event’s heavy-duty grand champ.

Both had to pass complex written exams to be one of 80 out of 1,400 Rush Truck Center technicians invited to compete at the annual rodeo event; then solve a variety of complicated problems over two days, along with passing another “Wildcard” written test as well.

[You can almost feel the tension as contestants went head-to-head in the heavy duty final round event seen below.]

Swann, however, follows a fairly simple formula for reaching the winner’s circle: train, train, and train some more. And it seems to work, for this is the third time out of the kast 7 years that he’s taken home top honors – winning the heavy-duty grand champion trophy in 2006, 2008, and now 2012.

“It feels good to win, of course, but it’s really by the grace of God that I’m here,” he told me. “But it really comes down to continual training. I ask for as many training classes as I can because that’s how you stay ahead of the curve in this industry. The technology on trucks today just changes so fast you just can’t afford to put off training opportunities.”

[You can watch how some of the technicians in the natural gas and medium duty categories faired in their final round events below.]

Yet while the goodies are certainly nice rewards for a lot of hard work – Rush Truck Centers RTC and its suppliers put up $150,000 in cash and prizes for the 2012 contest alone – the main thrust of the entire shindig is to remind technicians just how important they are in the trucking business.

Randy Marten, CEO of refrigerated carrier Marten Transport – a long time RTC customer – spoke to that importance at the rodeo’s award dinner.

“With the new CSA [Compliance Safety Accountability] program and hours of service reform, along with other changes, you can’t how important you guys are for us in terms of getting our equipment diagnosed, fixed, and back on the road,” he said.

“I know what you do because I started out where you are at, but I just couldn’t do it today – trucks are far too complex now,” Marten added. “That’s why what you do is seriously important to our business as truckers.”

W.M. “Rusty” Rush (on the right in the photo at right), president and CEO of Rush Enterprises – the parent company of RTC – stressed that service and parts business remains in his words “the heartbeat” of any dealership and it must be kept healthy and strong in order to help dealerships survive and thrive in the future.

“Trucking is a 24/7, 365 days a year business now and that means we need to be there for our customers all the time,” he explained.

“Customers are only going to consolidate and get bigger and they are quite simply going to be looking to us for more cost-effective solutions to the many pressures they face,” Rush said. “That’s why we do this [the rodeo]; it’s a way to say ‘thank you’ for what you do in helping us take care of our customers.”

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