Hundreds of students from across East Tennessee will gather in Powell for a regional tournament this month, but they won’t be scoring goals or making tackles.
Instead, students from KCS and other school districts will be participating in the 2019 Top Wrench competition, which tests the skills of CTE students in a variety of challenges related to the auto repair industry.
Founded in 1991, Top Wrench is designed to foster teamwork and technical skills for students who are interested in pursuing an auto-related career after high school. Program director Maria Richardson said that while interest in CTE-related fields has grown in recent years, the auto repair industry needs more workers.
The competition, she said, not only offers networking opportunities, but provides a community for students who may not be interested in activities like band or sports.
“I think they enjoy being around other students who share their interests and their passion, and they get to interact with businesses … so they can possibly make connections with future employment opportunities,” she said.
Students compete in six categories:
- Engine Start, in which competitors work to fix a “bugged” engine;
- Computer Control, using scanners to diagnose an engine problem;
- Pit Crew Challenge, a timed, NASCAR-style wheel-changing competition;
- Welding Fabrication, a judged contest featuring pre-made pieces that demonstrate welding skills;
- Custom Paint, a judged contest featuring pre-made pieces that demonstrate paint skills; and
- Valve Cover Race, a soapbox-derby style race using modified engine valve covers.
James Miller, a senior at Gibbs High School, participated in last year’s Pit Crew competition, as part of a team that earned a third-place trophy. He’s part of a Maintenance and Light Repair course at Gibbs that’s taught by Rick Honeycutt, and said it’s one of his favorite classes because it relates to his interests.
And when it comes to career role models, he doesn’t have to look far. Honeycutt worked for 37 years in auto dealerships, starting as a Mercedes technician and working his way up to supervisor at a Toyota dealership before making the shift to teaching.
Honeycutt said that for some students the class will provide a foundation for a good career. But even for students who don’t work in the auto field, learning the basics of maintenance “could save them a lot of money in their lives, just doing the small things.”
That’s part of the appeal for McKenna West, a Gibbs senior who enjoys using computer systems to diagnose engine problems. While she doesn’t expect to work on cars as a career, she knows the skills will come in handy later.
“I enjoy the class because it allows me to learn how to do stuff myself so when I get out of high school and something on my car breaks, I can just buy the parts and fix it myself instead of spending an arm and a leg on the parts and labor,” she said.
This year’s Top Wrench competition will take place on Oct. 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Crown College.