Top Wrench competition shines spotlight on excellence

Students from schools in nine counties, including William Blount and Heritage high schools, competed April 16 to see who could record the best times starting a bugged engine, repairing a “computer” car and changing a tire on a race car.

The fun was all part of the annual Top Wrench competition at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base. Twelve teams from Knox, Union, Anderson, Campbell, Monroe, Roane, Blount, Sevier and Jefferson counties participated in the April 16 event, said Top Wrench founder and coordinator Tech Sgt. Joe Marshall, (Ret.) USAF.

The event brought out good competition, and one William Blount student walked away with a scholarship. William Blount High School senior David Wright won one of the scholarships and a Union County student won the other. “Wright will be furthering his education at the Tennessee Technology Center with a grant from the East Tennessee Foundation, the West Knoxville Sertoma Club and the Top Wrench competition,” Marshall said. “We match the Hope lottery scholarship so they get a full ride.”

Marshall started the event in 1991. He retired from the Air Force two years later in 1993 but continued building the event to where this year there were 440 students competing. “It was our biggest year ever, and this is our 18th year,” he said.

The winner in the wheel-changing event was West High School. The winner in the static engine event was Central High School, and the winner in the electronic engine diagnostics event was Anderson County High School.

Marshall explained the three competitions. “In the Static Engine Competition, a big block Chevrolet engine is a static display on an engine stand. The teams have to debug it and get the engine started. Each team has 10 minutes to diagnose the problem and get it running,” he said.

The next competition is the Electronic Engine Diagnostics Competition. “The students have a “computer” car - a late model, old ‘56 Chevrolet - with parts from 18 different cars, and it has a problem. Each team has 15 minutes to figure out the problem,” he said.

Marshall said the students have to diagnose the problem, get the trouble code out of the computer, go to a laptop computer and pull it down on a satellite server that tells them exactly what computer part is defective. They have to replace that part and get the engine running within 15 minutes. “It’s a big challenge, but they’re up to the task. Absolutely, they’re sharp,” Marshall said of the students.

The third competition is a Pit Crew Wheel Changing Competition. “They have a race car brought to the base from Kevin Fouts Racing. They get the wheel on and off a car in a elapsed time and the winning time gets the win,” he said. “Last year the winner did it in 22 seconds.”

Marshall said that in each competition, first place got $300 and second got $200. The competition was about more than money, he said.

“It seems like the bragging rights to winning the competition has accelerated each year. Now, in the 18th year, it has become a prestigious thing to win because it’s a tough competition,” he said.

Marshall said the event encourages teamwork, problem solving and communication. “More importantly, they got to see an honest-to-goodness drug-free workplace,” he said.

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