Two Tri-Tech Skills Center seniors hope to do what none of instructor Larry Brookes’ students have done before — win the national Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition.
Austin Bailey and Daniel Doyle already smashed the competition at the Washington state finals earlier this month when they successfully found and fixed all of the problems with a 2015 Ford Fiesta SE.
With that win, they became the fifth team mentored by Brookes to conquer state finals and gain the honor of hanging the state finals banner in the Kennewick skills center’s practice auto shop.
The two Southridge High School seniors and Brookes also get an all-expenses paid trip to the national finals June 7-9 at Ford Motor Co.’s world headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
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So far, the best Brookes has seen his students place at nationals is eighth. The competition is tough, and the team that previously won eighth place only got a single demerit for workmanship, he said.
“They are going to represent us well,” Brookes said. “They are going to be the first (Washington team) in a long long time to win nationals.”
Getting to the state competition meant passing a test on basic automotive knowledge and shop safety. Austin and Daniel, as the two highest scoring students at Tri-Tech, were chosen to represent the school’s automotive program. And they were one of the top ten teams out of those from 32 different schools, which got them to the state competition.
Both are in their first year of participating in Brookes’ automotive systems technology program. Both Daniel and Austin wanted a chance to learn more about their shared passion.
Local dealerships Legacy Ford of Pasco and Tom Denchel Ford Country of Prosser were key in the Tri-Tech team’s success, Brookes said. Each provided a car of the specific make, model and engine so that Daniel and Austin could practice for the state finals.
The two then spent about three weeks learning the Fiesta inside and out, including about 30 hours outside of class.
Austin said having Brookes willing to stay after school to help them practice was critical. He would create problems in the practice vehicles, and the duo would rush to diagnose all the problems and fix them.
The first few times, Brookes gave them some hints and tips, but after that, it was all them.
Austin and Daniel, both 18, created a routine of repairs and checks and spent time learning the car and memorizing the technical manual for the specific model, Brookes said.
At state finals, Daniel and Austin had their car diagnosed and repaired in 58 minutes, with 32 minutes to spare. The next closest team finished 24 minutes later, Daniel said.
They caught each problem, from the air conditioning vent that wouldn’t open to the bad spark plug wire, and correctly repaired them.
“We smoked the competition at state,” Daniel said.
The judges said they worked well as a team when it came to splitting up duties.
Daniel’s focus was under the hood, while Austin did the interior work and lights. Since there were fewer problems under the hood, Daniel then helped Austin finish the interior work.
Nationals will be even more of a challenge, with an average of 12 to 14 problems to diagnose and then fix, Brookes said.
Austin and Daniel can’t practice for nationals yet. They won’t know what model of car will be used in the competition until the day after Memorial Day. Then, they’ll scramble to find a practice car and cram before the competition.
While at nationals, they will get a chance to tour the Ford Rouge Factory, where Ford assembles F-150 trucks. They also could win some big prizes at nationals.
By winning state finals, Austin and Daniel already have qualified for $24,500 each in scholarships to specific programs at four different schools. But they may not use the scholarships.
Austin plans to study instrumentation at Perry Technical Institute and is enrolled to start this fall.
Daniel likely will end up going through a dealership factory training program so he can work in the automotive field.