Christopher Barnett, a technician at Ryder System's shop in Hebron, Ky., who comes from a family of mechanics, bested scores of competitors in the annual SuperTech competition that ended Wednesday during a major industry meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa.
He and other finalists were honored at an awards lunch where they received accolades along with monetary and merchandise prizes. The competition was part of the ATA Technology & Maintenance Council's fall meeting, which traditionally hosts the SuperTech finals.
Barnett, 30, said focus and perseverance helped him become grand champion by posting the highest total points at 17 skill testing stations and a written exam on Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown.
This was Barnett's fifth year of involvement in the program, which for technicians begins with local competitions and moves on to state and then national levels.
Barnett said he gravitated to this line of work because "my uncle was an auto mechanic and I started working on cars when I was 14. All my uncles were mechanics, my father was a truck driver and then a heavy-duty mechanic, so I just grew up in it."
Choosing the Technician Path
While in high school he won a scholarship to the University of Northwest Ohio, a vocational institution known for its diesel technician curriculum, and chose to study that. After graduation he worked at a Freightliner dealership in Cincinnati, then went to Ryder, where he's been for nine years.
"When I won the scholarship they announced it over the (high school) loudspeaker," he related. "People heard that it was a university scholarship and asked me where it was. When I told them it was a vocational course, they rolled their eyes and said, 'Why are you going there?'"
That attitude among teachers and counselors is one reason there's a shortage of technicians, Barnett said. "They try to push us away from vocational education" when they should be encouraging it to help young people get good jobs.
A session at the TMC meeting included a panel of vocational educators and an expert technician who lamented the lack of young people entering the field, and gave tips on how to attract them.
Panelists agreed that fleets, dealers and manufacturers needing mechanics and other technically skilled employees should work with local high schools to promote the profession, and argue for support for vocational training at their local school boards.
Barnett said he's an electronics specialist at his Ryder shop and tends to do diagnostic work on trucks. He's not new to winning, having come away from a recent Ryder competition where he was awarded a new Ram 2500 HD diesel pickup.
He said he could've used the pickup to haul home his SuperTech prizes: a well-equipped Snap-On Roll Cab tool chest, a Reliance Dream Shop stocked with expendable supplies, electronic testing tools, Noregon J-Pro software, and $1,500 in gift cards from International Trucks and Chicago Pneumatic, and other things that together are probably worth $20,000 or more.
Barnett also won a trip for two to the Daytona 500 NASCAR race next spring, which he could drive the Ram to.
But "I'll probably have it (the stack of prizes) shipped home because I called the hotel here to ask about the height of the parking garage and they said 6 feet, so I left the truck home and brought my car."
Barnett has a wife, Susan, and three sons, Christopher II, 7, Anthony, 5, and John 3.
The 2012 SuperTech's Second Place winner was John Ragland, with FedEx Express, and Third Place went to Christopher Tate, of Mohawk Truck, Inc.
Fourth Place went to Michael Vallery, of Oak Harbor Freight Lines, who also won the Service Information skills test; and 6th went to Eric M. Vos, FedEx Freight, who also won the Repair Order skills test.
Fifth, 7th and 8th Places went to three Ryder technicians: Robert Gonzalez and Michael Bogard, both with Ryder Supply Chain Solutions, and Timothy Peters, with Ryder System. Ninth place was won by Mark McLean Jr., of FedEx Freight, and 10th by Joseph P. Calaway, with Walmart Transportation.
Competitors began the Tuesday morning battery of tests with a comprehensive written exam. At the 17 skills stations, they employed diagnostic knowledge and hands-on abilities. The Written Test winner, Alan Davenport, of FedEx Express, also won the Engine Electronics skills test.
Other skills station winners: Electrical, Randy Qualls, Walmart Transportation; Brakes, Timothy loan, FedEx Freight; and Engine Hardware and Tire & Wheel, David Berdovich, Ryder System.
The HVAC test was won by Donald Warman, of TravelCenters of America; Steering and Suspension by Robert Gonzalez, Ryder System (who was also the 7th Place overall winner); and Starting and Charging by Michael Bogard, Ryder Supply Chain Solutions, also the 8th Place overall winner.
Troy Hiatt of FedEx Freight won in Trailer Alignment; Jason Kleman, of Navistar, Inc., won the Drivetrain skills test; Rudy Laguna, of H-E-B Grocery Co., won Fifth Wheel; and Mitchell Buelow, FedEx Freight, won in Preventive Maintenance Inspection.
Wheel End was won by Bryan Lewis, Walmart Transportation; Fasteners by Darrell Duggan, Walmart Transportation; and Safety & Environmental by Glenroy Schad, whose employer was not given. All winners received various tools, equipment and gift cards from industry suppliers, and hearty applause from luncheon attendees.