Rush Enterprises again hosted its top service technicians, collision center technicians, truck sales reps, aftermarket sales reps, and parts reps from across the country for its annual Tech Skills Rodeo last week in San Antonio, Texas. The winners among the various categories took home more than $310,000 in cash and prizes.
Rush held its first Rodeo in 2006. It has grown through the years, both in attendees and in the number of competition categories, and the company cumulatively awarded more than $3 million in cash and prizes during that time.
More than 3,100 Rush employees tested this year, taking more than 4,000 tests as a whole, to qualify to compete in San Antonio. Of those, only 250 made the cut and were invited to attend and compete.
At the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, vehicles encircled the competition area as techs were tested on a variety of vehicles and powertrains, including Cummins, Eaton, Navistar, and Paccar MX. Vocational and alternative fuel vehicles also worked into the mix for the heavy-duty category.
Other testing categories covered medium-duty vehicles and components, including Allison transmission, bus, Ford, Hino, International, and Peterbilt.
By Tuesday evening many winners were proclaimed and awarded by Rusty Rush, CEO of Rush Enterprises, but only one took top honors.
What it Takes to be Grand Champion
Michael French from Rush Truck Centers - Dallas earned the title of 2023 Rush Enterprises Tech Skills Rodeo All-Around Grand Champion. He had already made one trip to the stage by taking first in the Paccar MX competition. As a result of the two awards, he won $18,500 in cash and prizes.
French had competed twice before but said this was the first time he had even placed.
“Even if you're overwhelmed, you can't give up on it. You just gotta keep trying,” French said. “I didn't win last year, or a couple years ago when I got here." Some techs, he said, "just give up on taking the test altogether, and you can't do that. You're gonna win. You're gonna lose. You just gotta keep trying.”
For French, the competition brought a new challenge. Despite doing well on the qualifying test and then winning the Paccar MX category, he had never worked on an International truck before.
“I’ve never worked on it, never even opened a computer before. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen their software,” he added, with a chuckle.
He previously worked in an oil field, but after the ups and downs of being laid off multiple times, French found a home as a tech with Rush seven years ago. For people who might consider a career working on trucks, he said they should just try it. He pointed out he didn’t get started as a tech until he was 31.
“Get out there, get your hands on it, and actually do it. Don’t just read it in a book,” he said. “Just go out there and actually tear into it. If you want to do it, you’ll enjoy it. If not, you’ll hate it.”
French said the biggest problem he sees with technicians is that some will face a task and say, “I can’t do it” or “I don’t know how to do it.”
“There’s no such thing. If you want to do it, you’re going to try. That’s my number one advice to all the guys out there,” he said.
Rising Stars Competition
While many who compete in the Rush Rodeo have been there before and have many years of experience, the company also provides a way for new service techs to compete, show their skills, and experience the event.
To qualify for the Rising Stars competition, techs must be a Level 1 or Level 2 tech and have less than two years of experience. Competitors also took a qualifying test to reach the San Antonio event. But the Rising Stars uses a slightly different competition format.
In the main competition, techs work on an individual truck that's bugged with an issue, explained Mitch Davisson, director of tech school engagement. “They get a repair order that's going to have a customer complaint on it just like they would day in and day out."
On the Rising Star side, however, it's more introductory testing, he said. Some of them are just written exams. Some of them are a mix of hands-on, some of them are 100% hands-on.
In total, the Rising Star competitors were tested at 12 stations, including brakes, suspension, safety, wheel ends, preventive maintenance, and a mock PM.
“It's real stuff that they're going to see in the shop on a daily basis, even as an entry-level technician,” Davisson added.
Most of the testing stations lasted for 30 minutes, although some were slightly shorter. Whereas the main tech competitors test on one day and then are done unless they advance to the next day’s finals, the Rising Stars test over two half-days.
Another key difference is that in the Rising Stars event there are never any return competitors. It is a one-and-done deal. So, a first-year technician who reaches the Rising Star competition, win or lose, cannot return as a second-year technician. The only option after competing as a Rising Star once is to take the qualification test and try to make the cut for the main competition.
Zane Marble, of Rush Truck Centers - Tulsa, placed first in Rising Stars and took home $11,500 in cash and prizes.
Collision Center Competition
While nearly all of the Rush Rodeo events, expo, and affiliated activities were held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center or the adjacent hotel, some competitors were hard at work a day earlier at a Rush facility in nearby Converse.
There, collision center technicians began competition Saturday in either body paint or body repair. The body shop shut down two paint booths and several bays for three days to allow space for the competition.
Rush has about 330 collision center technicians working in its collection of 32 body shops, and six of those shops were represented by people in the competition. About 70 people took the qualification test for body work, and about the same for paint.
“Painters basically have a hood that we painted, and they have a mismatched color," explained Rick Melcher, director of collision centers. "The techs are given the paint coat, but we've tweaked the paint. So, they have to color match and blend. It’s a real skill for these people to blend.”
Daniel Garcia Gonzalez, of Rush Truck Center - Salt Lake City won $5,500 in cash and prizes by placing first in body paint. Richard Uzailko, of Rush Truck Centers - Haines City, took home the same winnings for placing first in body repair.