After a two-day competition at U.S. Xpress’ Tunnel Hill, Georgia, facility, five tractor technicians and two trailer technicians will be heading to the national SuperTech competition held by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council — and the truckload carrier will have more insight into where its techs need more training.
The competition, held April 19-20, was greatly expanded from the first year, approximately doubling the number of competition stations and the number of techs, including adding trailers to this year’s event.
There were three main reasons to stage such a competition, explained Gerald “Gerry” Mead, senior vice president of maintenance. One is to gain knowledge of where the company has weak points in its training. The 30 technicians at the competition were chosen based on their scores on written tests from U.S. Xpress’s 600-plus techs at locations around the country maintaining its fleet of 7,000 tractors and 15,500 trailers. If these top technicians are struggling in a particular area, it’s a safe bet that others are, as well.
Another, Mead says, is simply that “people want to compete. Humans are competitive.” This allows the technicians to test their knowledge and skills and help spur them to ever-greater efforts.
And third, it’s simply about having fun. “Part of working at a company is having fun.” And techs who are having fun in their jobs are more likely to stay with the company. And young people who might be interested in pursuing a career, or techs who might be interested in working at U.S. Xpress, can see what’s happening and become interested as well. In fact, the competition was featured in Chattanooga’s Times Free Press.
The event was patterned after TMC’s SuperTech competition, focusing on the organization’s Recommended Practices rather than specific company or manufacturer procedures. The stations were set up with the help of manufacturers and suppliers, whose company logos were emblazoned on the back of the technicians’ competition T-shirts.
“These are getting really popular,” said Aaron Puckett, vice president of regional sales for Fontaine Fifth Wheel. His company does stations like this for fleets and state associations as well as for SuperTech. For SuperTech, he said, he does his best to try to come up with a problem to solve that the techs aren’t likely to have seen before. For this competition, however, he stuck more to the basics as outlined in the TMC RP.
With warm spring breezes coming in the open bay doors, technicians rotated through the stations, with a buzzer denoting the beginning and end of the 20-minute time limit.
It was the second year at the competition for James Teglas of Springfield, Ohio, who ended up taking first place in the tractor competition and swept six of the station categories this year.
“When you go to TMC, they expect you to know a little bit about everything,” he said. Teglas, who has been with U.S. Xpress since 2009 and previously worked for J.B. Hunt, said the amount of training provided by U.S. Xpress had increased in recent years — and with good reason. Truck and equipment makers, he said, “are piling on more electronic everything. When you hook the laptop up to the truck — and you have to use a laptop today — you have to be pretty savvy.”
Mead named the event the MAXimum Technician Competition in a play-on-words nod to company co-founder and Chairman Max Fuller, who was on hand for the competition, confiding that while the competition might be intended to be fun for the techs, it’s fun for him to get to come down to the shop to visit with them.
“Max was our first equipment guy,” Mead explained. “He’s truly a guy that really led from the front. He’s busted down tires and changed oil. Every [U.S. Xpress] tech out there knows who he is. I thought this was a good way to honor him.”
The following winners will participate in TMC’s SuperTech competition in September:
1st Place: James Teglas, Springfield, Ohio
2nd Place: James Bowers, New Caney, Texas
3rd Place: Junior Rooker, Olive Branch, Mississippi
4th Place: Gary Wilson, Jacksonville, Florida
5th Place: John Welsh, Duncan, South Carolina
1st Place: Nick Alspaugh, Shippensburg, Pennsyvlania
2nd Place Trailer: Teddy Humphries, Cleveland, Tennessee
In addition, the following station winners were recognized:
• Steering & Suspension: Bob Caniano, Markham, Illinois
• Drivetrain: Dustin Donald, Olive Branch, Mississippi
• Tire & Wheel, Safety, Tractor Brake, Tractor PMI, Electrical, 5th Wheel: James Teglas, Springfield, Ohio
• Trailer Electrical, Trailer Suspension: Casey Frady, Tunnel Hill, Georgia
• Trailer PMI: Bernard Butler, Tunnel Hill, Georgia
• Powertrain: Terry Ott, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
• Trailer Brakes: Nick Alspaugh, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
• Engine Diagnostics: Junior Rooker, Olive Branch, Mississippi
• Coolant & Lubricants: Jeff Haney, Auburn, Indiana