Top Wrench competition roars as students vie to start engine, change tires, find 'bugs'

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By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

If you ever needs a flat tire changed quickly, William Blount High School automotive technology students can handle the chore quicker than most.

The school’s team at the 16th Annual Top Wrench competition on May 10 changed out a tire in 29.3 seconds and won the pit crew wheel changing event. Heritage High School came in second at 29.5 seconds and South-Doyle High School placed third at 29.7 seconds.

About 410 high school vocational students from throughout East Tennessee came together for the annual Top Wrench competition at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard base. The event was planned as an opportunity for vocational students to have a fun day away from school and see some of the career opportunities available with area car dealerships and the air guard.

Program organizer Sgt. Joe Marshall, Air National Guard retired, said the event also was a way to promote awareness that illicit drug use can rob a person of whatever success they earn.

"I tell kids if you want to succeed, there can’t be any drug use, or it will rob you of every success," he said.

The students competed in the static engine display, the electronic car and the pit crew wheel changing competition.
In the electronic car competition, electronic "bugs" were placed within the electrical system of a vehicle built in part by Heritage High School automotive technology and auto body students. The challenge was to diagnose the problems or "bugs" that had been placed in the system in 15 minutes.

Union County High School won the competition with a time of 13 minutes, 11 seconds; Bearden High School placed second at 13 minutes, 40 seconds, and Campbell County High School won third place at 14 minutes, 59 seconds.

The static engine display competition was the loudest of all the events. According to Tech Sgt. Steven Kear, "They have 10 minutes. We put in three bugs, and it’s up to them to figure out what’s wrong."

Success was always evident when the students were able to crank up the engine, which resulted in loud roar from the engine. Bearden High School won in 1 minute, 14 seconds; South-Doyle High School took second in 1 minute, 15 seconds, and Central High School was third at 1 minute, 41 seconds.

William Blount High School had 32 students at the competition. Auto Technology instructor David Reed said he doesn’t put pressure on the students in the weeks building up to the competition because they put pressure on themselves to win.

"They want to look good for the school. We’re here to have a fun time," he said. "I don’t put pressure on them. If they win, it’s icing on the cake."

Reed said the students also got to see opportunities available through the Air Guard.

"A lot of these kids have never been on the base. They get to see it, and it opens their eyes about what’s over here," he said.

WBHS senior Andy Morrison, 18, said it was important not to get too nervous. "It’s mostly about having a good time," he said.

WBHS junior Scott Butler, 16, said it was fun to see how students from other schools competed. "We get to find out how good we are," he said. "I know we think we’re good, but we get to find out if we are."

The classic and custom cars on display caught the attention of WBHS junior Brian Thompson, 18. Cars displayed included a Lamborghini, a Dodge Viper Turbo, a classic Buick Skylark owned by Twin City dealer Jerry Hodge, a Bentley, a Chrysler Charger, a Pontiac Solstice and a Saturn Sky convertible. "I’m a car fanatic," Thompson said.

Also on display was a large hydraulic lift measuring about 30 feet long by 10 feet wide used to offload supplies onto aircraft. "Some students said that was the biggest deer tree stand they had ever seen," Marshall said with a laugh.

Heritage High School collision repair teacher Randy Bird and automotive technology teacher Jim Carpenter brought about 24 students to the competition. The events taught teamwork and problem-solving, Bird said.

Carpenter said the students look forward to the competition. "They’ve talked about this all year since school started," he said.

Bird thanked the organizers. "Joe Marshall and Randy Patterson do a super job of putting this on," he said.

HHS junior Troy Cope, 17, said he learns more from the hands-on activities that are part of the competition than lecturing or textbook work in a conventional class. "That’s what makes it fun," he said of the competition.

An automotive scholarship to Tennessee Technology Institute was awarded to Cole Trentham from Heritage High School.

The scholarship matches his HOPE lottery scholarship, which can be as much as $500 a semester. Anthony Tanner from South-Doyle High School also won a scholarship for auto body technology. Four journalism students from William Blount High School and Clinton High School interviewed competitors in the events, and Jeffrey Hinderlight from Clinton High School won
a journalism scholarship.

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