Techs win thousands in Rush contest

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A judge watches Chris Zweifel compete at Rush Tech Skills Rodeo. (Photo Todd Dills)

Throughout the two-day Rush Tech Skills Rodeo, held at the downtown San Antonio, Texas, convention center Dec. 13-14, Rush Truck Centers Service Operations Vice President Mike Besson introduced one technician with the phrase “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”

That technician, Chris Zweifel, has worked for a decade with the Rush El Paso, Texas, Peterbilt store, following a career in maintenance in the U.S. Army. Since the Tech Skills competition began in 2006 at the company’s Nashville store, he’s been near the top but never first.

Besson used the phrase for the second time at the Rodeo’s awards banquet when announcing that Zweifel was the 2010 Rodeo’s heavy-duty grand champion. “I made it to the final round every year,” said Zweifel. “But to win, it’s just awesome.”

San Antonio-based Rush technician Matthew Pogue won the medium-duty crown. Between them, they bagged cash and prizes valued at $38,000, including an all-expenses-paid trip for each technician and a spouse to the Grand Cayman Islands, among other prizes.

The 2010 competition was the fifth for Rush Enterprises, owner of the largest network of Peterbilt dealers in the United States, as well as several International dealerships integrated under the Rush Truck Centers brand. Truck service technicians are “the heartbeat of a dealership,” said company President and CEO Rusty Rush, reflecting on the rapid growth of the Rush network in recent years.

He called the Rodeo a “platform I hope will help differentiate us going forward” and “one of the most exciting, gratifying, rewarding things” the company has initiated in the last five years. “There’s not enough that I can say to thank you,” Rush told the 65 competing technicians and guests.

The overall competition took the best technicians in the service network, who completed more than 700 written tests to qualify in Cummins, Eaton, Caterpillar, Medium-Duty and Refuse service categories.

Technicians were scored on proper procedure, time and repair success by manufacturer representatives. In the Caterpillar category, where Zweifel competed to advance to the final round, manufacturer Technical Communicator David Wooten was among judges scoring techs on their investigation of a “low power complaint,” he said.

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In the Cummins category, featuring identically powered Peterbilt 386 models with 2010 ISX 15 engines, technicians were presented with a work order identifying customer complaints of “rough running, low power, occasional hard starts and a check engine light since the last start,” said Cummins Southern Plains trainer Lee Anderson. “There are multiple issues in the engine – some to grab your attention, some that you have to know the system to identify and some that are not so easy.” As in other categories, time spent troubleshooting fault codes in computerized, often online, manufacturer technical materials was high.

Besson said it’s common for manufacturers to include problems relative to “whatever the hot buttons are for the manufacturer” in required training and testing to qualify for the competition, often involving components of new emissions systems and electrical issues. Eaton this year presented competing techs with a highly mechanical set of tasks that included a rebuild of the three-speed auxiliary set of gears, or “back box,” in a 13-speed model transmission. A clutch adjustment was also part of the competition – Brian Noska, of the Sealy, Texas, location, won the category with a broken right index finger.

Medium-Duty and Refuse categories presented challenges. Techs troubleshooted power-unit issues in the former in different models, from Hino 238 to International DuraStar and Isuzu NQR to Peterbilt 337 cab and chassis. In the Refuse category, problems were worked out in a 2011 Peterbilt 320 with a McNeilus body.

Medium-Duty grand champion Pogue qualified for the final round on an NQR. He noted the competition’s focus on knowledge of manufacturer-recommended procedures as a great opportunity to learn the systems that make up a truck cold. “Anybody familiar with a truck in general can find the problem,” he said. “But they want to see that you know how to look it up… to fix it without tearing the truck apart.”

Use of diagnostic tools increases longevity, he said, a plus for delivering quality service to customers.

Pogue planned to use some of his winnings, including $10,000 and a $1.50 hourly raise, to keep his own 1992 and 1993 Cummins-powered Dodge dually pickups running right – “I’d like to trick the engine a little bit, do some body work and fix the rust,” he said.

All technicians advancing to the final round, in addition to cash prizes, were awarded permanent raises of $1 an hour, $1.25 and $1.50 for Reserve and Grand Champions.

Jerry Carpenter, of the Charlotte, N.C., Rush Truck Center, won the Jost “Fastest Hands” competition, in which techs competed for the fastest time taking apart and rebuilding a Jost fifth wheel. Carpenter’s time, 1 minute and 39 seconds, beat the next fastest time by a fraction of a second. Carpenter won $500.

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