Is there anything that Americans take for granted more than their vehicles? They play a hugely significant role in our daily lives, transporting us to work, school, the grocery store, doctors’ appointments, entertainment venues and a wide variety of destinations both near and far. We hop in, turn the key and expect to be on our way within seconds — until that fateful day when a dead battery, flat tire or some unexpected mechanical problem stops us dead in our tracks.
Today’s vehicles, as we are well aware, are more like computers on wheels, filled with state-of-the-art technology from bumper to bumper. As a result, it requires superbly trained automotive technicians to ensure that our vehicles continue to run in a safe and efficient manner.
In Western New York, local high school students training for careers in the automotive industry have their skills and knowledge put to the test annually thanks to the Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association/Ron Smith Memorial AutoTech Competition, a regional program that examines the readiness of tomorrow’s automotive technicians. These well-trained student teams compete locally for a chance to earn a coveted spot in the National Automotive Technology Competition in New York City, where they can earn significant prizes and scholarship dollars. But first they have to ace the local competition.
The NFADA-sponsored event is named after the late Ronald Smith, a retired employee of Erie 1 BOCES who was instrumental in bringing the regional competition to Western New York in 1995.
Each year, students from 13 schools representing all counties of Western New York are invited to compete in the local competition, hosted by the Erie Community College Vehicle Technology Training Center in Orchard Park. Students work in teams to uncover hidden automotive “bugs” planted on test vehicles. During the 2012-13 school year’s competition, the student teams spent 2-1/2 hours inspecting their test vehicle from bumper to bumper at six workstations. This year’s test vehicles were a 2013 Ford F-150 and a 2013 Subaru BRZ.
Throughout the process, students are matched with local dealerships where they train with senior technicians to hone their automotive skills. Several students who have competed in the local AutoTech Competition have later been offered full-time positions working for local automotive dealerships, ensuring the continuation of a skilled and highly trained Western New York automotive workforce.
Teams that perform exceptionally well at the local competition, held each year in mid-January, qualify to advance to the National Automotive Technology Competition at the New York International Auto Show held in early April, where approximately 30 teams from across the country compete for $3 million in prizes.
Western New York’s winners in the senior portion of the 2013 competition included the first-place team of Kyle Jung and Dan Ruble representing Orleans Niagara BOCES. Under the instruction of Jasper Adams, the team went on to finish in 20th place in the national competition.
Finishing in second place locally and 11th overall in the national competition was the team of River Saxbury and David Thie, representing Burgard High School in Buffalo. This was the best local finish for a Burgard team and the first time Burgard has qualified for the national competition, according to instructor Bob Boss. Both students will continue their automotive training at Erie Community College, according to Boss.
Eric Mayle and Ashlee Warren, seniors at Akron High School, finished in third place locally while representing Erie 1 BOCES. They trained at the Harkness Career & Technical Center under the instruction of Robert Ward and Brian Mysliwiec.
“Technicians are vital to the auto industry,” said Frank Downing, chairman of the Western New York Ford Dealers. “We are proud to support programs and competitions like this because they are shaping the future of the industry. At our dealerships, we have technicians that have been with us for years, working their way up from entry level positions to where they are now.”
The NFADA also holds a Tire Rodeo each year — a special automotive competition for area high school juniors — during the local AutoTech Competition. This separate event was added a number of years ago by the NFADA’s planning committee to bring first-year automotive students into the local competition. Having these first-year students at the event adds excitement and encourages them to return as seniors for the chance to earn a trip to New York to participate in the national finals. The idea is working as NFADA organizers generally see about 60 percent of the juniors returning the following year to compete in the AutoTech competition.
Teams from Erie 1 BOCES swept the top three positions at the most recent Exxpress Tire Delivery Tire Rodeo. Winning first place in the competition were Nolen Sinclair and Talal Elwaseem, juniors from Kenmore East High School enrolled in the Automotive Tech program at the Kenton Career & Technical Center under the instruction of Gary Carlson and Gary Willis.
Second place in the Tire Rodeo was awarded to Matt Hendler of Clarence and Cody Bruyere of Akron, enrolled in the Automotive Tech program at the Harkness Career & Technical Center under the instruction of Brian Mysliwiec. Third place was presented to Tyler Biddeman and Carl Stauch of West Seneca West High School, enrolled in the Automotive Tech program at the Potter Career & Technical Center under the instruction of Steven Walter and James Gunning.
“Our goals have always been to create awareness about the industry, encourage interested students to continue their automotive education at the college level and find employment in a new vehicle franchise dealership,” said Thomas J. Herrmann, chairman of the local AutoTech committee. “I believe that the competition accomplishes these goals and I say that because we were fortunate again this year to have a former winner, who is now employed as an automotive technician in a new vehicle dealership, serving as a judge in our competition. That is solid proof that the competition works!”
For more information regarding the NFADA and the Ron Smith Memorial AutoTech Competition, please visit www.nfada.com. Frequent updates can also be found on the competition’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NfadaRonSmithMemorialAutotechCompetition?fref=ts.