Minnesota Students Win Ford/AAA National Auto Repair Title

Washington, D.C. – 6/24/2003

Racing against the clock and against 49 other student teams from around the country, aspiring auto technicians PJ Duchene, 19, and Tyler Hassler, 18, of Faribault High School in Faribault, Minnesota needed only 39 of minutes to fix their vehicle to win the 2003 FORD/AAA STUDENT AUTO SKILLS national finals this morning on the National Mall.

The pair, who spent months preparing for the competition with their instructor, Mark Lessman, took home more than $65,000 in scholarships and prizes for their school. In total, Ford and AAA handed out over $6 million in prizes to the competition’s participants, which they hope will encourage students to pursue careers in the automotive field.

“Today, PJ and Tyler earned the right to be called America’s top high school auto technician team,” said James Dunst, Auto Skills contest manager. “Their hard work and desire to be the best typify the can-do spirit of all of today’s participants. These are exactly the talented young people the auto industry needs to keep Americas vehicles operating safely and trouble-free.”

The Student Auto Skills competition, now in its 54th year, is an annual event to determine the top high school auto technicians in the country. After completing a written exam that counted for 40 percent of the their overall score, the 50 two-person teams — one team representing each state — gathered on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial at 9:00 a.m. for the hands-on portion, which counted for 60 percent.

At 9:15 a.m., with a starting call of, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines, if you can,” each team raced to a 2003 Ford Taurus with the same mechanical problems. Once the hood was popped, they had 90 minutes to diagnose and fix any number of “bugs” in the starting, charging, ignition, cooling, electrical, lighting, braking, climate control and power train systems. The team from Minnesota drove their car across the finish line, winning the contest.

“Millions of car owners depend on well-trained auto technicians to care for the maintenance and repair needs of their vehicles,” said John Nielsen, director of AAA’s Approved Auto Repair program. “Co-sponsoring the Auto Skills contest is one way AAA continues to make sure consumers can have complete confidence they and their vehicle will be properly cared for when visiting a AAA-inspected and approved repair facility.”

“Careers in automotive service have never been more attractive than they are now,” said Steve DeAngelis, Manager of Ford Motor Company’s Technical Support Operations. “Ford and its dealer network are offering these contestants unparalleled opportunities to train for high-tech careers in a well-compensated field.”

“Ford uses this event to attract the best young technicians to its training programs and careers within our dealer network,” DeAngelis said.

Teams placing second through tenth in the Ford/AAA contest received scholarship awards scaled from $45,000 to $2,800. Second place went to Colby Cabacungan, 18, and Aaron Yamada, 18, of Maui High School in Kahului, Hawaii. Chris Wilkinson, 19, and Paul Harless, 18, of East Oklahoma County VTC in Choctaw, Oklahoma, took third place.

And it’s not just high school students competing at today’s event. For the second year in a row, The Professional Technician Society Ultimate Master Technician Challenge was held in conjunction with the competition.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides its members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.

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Note Editors:

B-roll footage is available at the following coordinates:

Tuesday, June 24, 2003 2:30-3 PM ET

AMC2, Transponder 18

DL 4060


Audio 6.2/6.8

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

1:00-1:15 PM ET

AMC2, Transponder 11

DL 3920


Audio 6.2/6.8

The top ten winners in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition were:

1st Place, MINNESOTA (PJ Duchene, 19, and Tyler Hassler, 18, instructor: Mark Lessman)

2nd Place, HAWAII (Colby Cabacungan, 18, and Aaron Yamada, 18, instructor: Dennis Ishii)

3rd Place, OKLAHOMA (Chris Wilkinson, 19, and Paul Harless, 18, instructor: Jim Lafevers)

4th Place, WISCONSIN (Nicholas Moroder, 19, and Doug Fromm, 19, instructor: Carl Hader)

5th Place, OREGON (Eric Saunders, 19, and Jake Christensen, 19, instructor: Merle Saunders)

6th Place, NEW YORK (Joshua Eygnor, 19, and Zachary Decker, 18, instructor: Chet Kuhn)

7th Place, UTAH (Rick Ballard, 18, and Travis Christy, 18, instructor: Archie Romney)

8th Place, MASSACHUSETTS (Adam Mikkola, 19, and Matthew Briggs, 18, instructor: David Haskins)

9th Place, ALABAMA (Jason Welborn, 18, and Adam Sharp, 18, instructor: Robert Bryson)

10th Place, TEXAS (Brandon Moon, 18, and John Schwarzbach, 19, instructor, Donald Kessler)