Traditionally held outdoors, rain threatened the finals but only resulted in a 30-minute delay to the 90-minute contest. The competition pits the top ten two-person teams from the state's high school-level auto technology programs against each other in a race to repair an inoperative car. For this event, the contestants faced ten identically bugged Ford Fusions.
The bugs were put into place the day before by two Ford representatives, Justin Manning and Paul Peters. Peters was on the winning high school team in New York's 2006 Auto Skills Contest.
As a reflection of the technical training and skills of these up-and-coming auto technicians, this year's contest marked the first time in recent memory that all ten teams were able to get their car running and drive it to the final judging station.
While time in making the repairs was important, it wasn't the most important factor. "We look for a perfect repair," says Laurence Eiden, the event chairman and technical contest manager. In other words, the judges are much like auto repair customers. "Perfection trumps speed," says Manning.
Peters and Manning inspected each car. Demerits were given for improper repairs or for workmanship faults. "We look for anything obvious that would cause a customer to say, 'That's not right,'" Manning says. Among the faults that prompted negative marks were improperly secured hood prop rods and a failure to return the red plastic covers protecting the positive terminal of the battery to exactly the position they had when the car left the factory.
The final rankings were determined by combining the written test scores that qualified the teams to take part in the hands-on portion of the contest with the quality and time required to make the repairs. For the second consecutive year, the team from Norwich Technical High School was atop the final ranks. This year's pair consisted of Michael B. Burke, Mathew Ying and instructor Peter Civitello.
In addition to winning tools and scholarships that will assist in their technical education after high school, the team from Norwich will go to the national contest held in June at Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
A separate prize for the best written test scores went to the team of Jesse Brown and Sean Porter, representing Howell Cheney Technical High School in Manchester. Their instructor was David Morello. More than 250 Connecticut auto technology high school students took the written test.
Windham Technical High School's team of Brandon Molnar and James Riley placed second with Platt (Milford) Technical High School's team of Conner Hart and Jason Wyman coming in third.
Civitello has nearly 30 years of automotive experience, having worked as a technician at a General Motors dealership. This is his first year teaching.
"I'm just happy that they did so well," he says. "It was all on them. All I did, with the other two instructors, was point them the way. They needed to take the initiative to take it upon themselves to do well. I think today proved it."
As for teaching, Civitello says, "It is very rewarding especially when you see the light bulb turn on in their heads; once you see that they've got it." On this day, his students definitely "got it."
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email email@example.com.
This content was prepared by the Marketing Department of The Hartford Courant without involvement of the News Department