In the by-now familiar holidays ritual, Rush Enterprises held its fourth Technician Skills Rodeo, drawing techs from across its far-flung 62-facility truck center empire. All-Around Heavy-Duty Tech Randy Hughes from Texarkana, who won his category in each of the previous three contests, will have a very merry Christmas indeed, with $8,000 in prize money, $5,500 worth of top tools to make him even more effective as a technician
(Photo by Steve Sturgess)
(Photo by Steve Sturgess)
, and a dollar boost in pay rate to make it a prosperous New Year.

The All-Around Medium-Duty Tech is Billy Stanley from Houston, who takes home $5,000 in cash and $5,500 in other prizes.

Other winners included Chris Zweifel from El Paso, Texas, Wayne Owens from San Diego, Brian Noska from Sealy Texas, and Matthew Pogue from San Antonio, Texas, taking the top honors in Caterpillar Tech, Cummins Tech, Eaton Tech and Medium-Duty Tech, respectively.

The Festivities

The skills contest is a three-day event for many. as they must come from as far away as California for the main event, held for the first time at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center on San Antonio's historic downtown Riverwalk.

Other highlights included accommodations at the Grand Hyatt, lunch at restaurants on the Riverwalk and a boat tour ending up at the high-energy San Antonio nightspot Howl At The Moon, where dinner and an evening of fun and music enabled the techs to unwind before getting back into the second day's finals. Of the 60 technicians who made the trek to the Skills Rodeo, 15 went forward to the second-day finals, nine on the heavy-duty side and six on the mediums.

New This Year

Over the four years since its inception, the Skills Contest has been refined and enhanced, adding categories, making the troubleshooting even tougher and adding social events. New this year was the recognition of the Medium Champion to underscore the importance of ever-increasing medium truck service business at the Rush dealerships.

Also new were training classes for the techs when not involved in the testing. These classes were well received as these techs are all about learning and improvement. And the time in class also kept them from hanging around nervously waiting to be called to the troubleshooting and repair of the 18 trucks in the exhibit hall. Of these, three deliberately bugged Cummins-powered Peterbilt 386 sleepercabs, three 388 daycabs with a fault in the 13-speed manual transmission and three more 388 daycabs with 10 faults in their Caterpillar engines were lined up to test the technicians' diagnostic and repair skills. On the medium side, three GMC Kodiak 5500s had one fault and three Hino 285ALPs had three faults apiece.

Caterpillar, Cummins, Eaton, GMC, Hino, Peterbilt and Snap-on were instrumental in providing these opportunities for testing techs to the max. Other sponsors included Allison, Cool Space, Delco-Remy, DeWalt, Grainger, Horton, Kimberly Clark, Paccar Parts, Pana-Pacific, Penray, Maxxima, Unifirst, WET and Zephyr.

Recognizing the Best

According to Rush Vice President of Service Mike Besson, the main inspiration for the Skills Rodeo is to honor the techs, the mainstay of the dealerships. He says that over time, a technician makes a bigger contribution to the company's bottom line than the new-truck salesmen who more commonly get the recognition and the rewards. CEO Randy Rush addressed the contestants as "The heartbeat of the industry." He said the contest was all about recognizing the best efforts of the best people. Quoting his father and company Chairman Marvin Rush Rusty: "He told me, 'Surround yourself with good people and recognize what they do every day.'"

The winners had to work hard for the awards. According to the techs, the bugs put in to the trucks and components are a real test of their skills. The ability to accurately diagnose and fix a problem is important. But so is the complete documentation of the process. Rush's Besson said that this is not all there is to it, though. There are other small bugs salted away for the technician to find. These are the sort of things that might cause a truck to be sidelined at the scales, and a good tech will spot these problems, saving a customer from later inconvenience.

Those that do well in the contest likely have competed before. Each year more and more of the total 750 Rush technicians enter the written part as the first step of the Rodeo. This year, 350 participated in over 650 written exams, as many entered multiple categories. The top 60 then had to choose one category for the San Antonio event. In the finals, each category has first, second and third place winners. The Medium All Round Champion and a Reserve are recognized and rewarded. In the All-Round Heavy Rodeo, a third-place, Reserve and Grand Champion are rewarded.

Included in the other prizes were commemorative belt buckles for the winners, Landa pressure washers, CoolSpace WaveCool personal coolers, Nexiq IQ hardened diagnostic computers, DeWalt toolkits and Snap-On rolling toolchests.