Rush rodeo time comes round again

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The diagnostic work technicians need to perform in order to figure out what needs to be fixed is almost always the hardest part; fixing the truck itself is the easiest part. And what makes this competition so tough is that we put these guys out on an island, by themselves – they can’t go to anyone for help. That’s the complete opposite of how they work in the shop.” –Mike Besson, vice president-service operations, Rush Truck Centers

For the fifth straight year, Rush Truck Centers (RTC) – a division of Rush Enterprises – is holding its annual Technician Skills Rodeo here in San Antonio, TX.

[You can watch some of the challenges faced by the 65 semi-finalists here at the rodeo below, which include hands on problems as well as ones that require a computer to solve.]

As I write this, the 15 finalists are gathering in the cavernous convention hall below me here in the Grand Hyatt to start punching laptop keyboards, turn wrenches, and flip pages of half a dozen different service manuals to see who’ll win the right to be called “the best of the best,” while pocketing some serious winnings – for at stake is the chance to win between $3,000 to $5,000 cash and anywhere from $1 to $1.50 per hour raise in pay.

Out of RTC’s roughly 800 to 900 total technician workforce, some 350 took 700 written exams to qualify for the 2010 Rush Tech Skills Rodeo, with the 65 highest scorers invited to take part in the competition here in San Antonio.

Working on nine Class 8 Peterbilt tractors, nine medium-duty models (three Isuzu NQR units, three Hino 238 straight trucks and three International DuraStar vehicles) and one Peterbil Model 320 truck chassis equipped with a 30-yard McNeilus refuse body, those 65 have been culled down to a final group of 15 – nine heavy-duty and six medium-duty technicians – with five techs competing by themselves in the refuse category’s finals.

[Here you can watch some of the medium-duty technicians in action.]

The mettle of rookie competitors as well as steely veterans alike is being tested in all sorts of ways – and we’re not talking solely about speed here, either.

For in order to score high, the technician must not only fully complete the repair, he’s got to do it the right way, using the right procedures – because as these trucks get more and more complicated, using the proper diagnostic techniques is almost as important as performing the physical fix to a truck as well.

“Just because you finish first on a problem really doesn’t mean much,” explained veteran competitor Michael Willoughby, out of RTC's Oklahoma City, OK, location. “The first time I competed I just blazed through my problem to finish first, but I didn’t document my processes or put a lot of detail in my service write up.”

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I’d hoped to see Michael make it in to the finals this year as he’s been to every single one of Rush’s Rodeos. But 2010 wasn’t his year, it seems – maybe next year, my friend.

But this year’s contest was tough on everyone. Two past champions did not make it into the finals either: Dustin Ebert and last year’s winner, Randy Hughes. Not surprisingly, though, Jason Swann, a technician out of RTC’s Dallas store – and a two time grand champion at this event – is again a finalist. We’ll see if his luck holds.

Even now, the tension is mounting over who will win the coveted grand prizes in the heavy- and medium-duty technician categories. We’ll just have to wait until this day is over to find out.

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