A team from Paris High School in Texas took the top spot in this past weekend's Ford/AAA Auto Skills Challenge. The goal of the yearly competition, which pits the top 50 two-man teams against each other, is to accurately diagnosis and repair a vehicle that has been deliberately disabled. The teams are given a maximum of 90 minutes to complete the task, and Bradley J. Bolton and Aaron Clay were able to get their Mustang GT convertible started in less than 30 minutes. For that half-hour of work (which, to be fair, was preceded by several months of preparation), they walked away with $2,500 in scholarships and a nice accomplishment to add to their resumes.

Including the many regional competitions, Ford and AAA distributed a total of $6M in prizes and scholarships to this year's competitors.

[Source: AAA; complete press release posted after the jump]

Racing against the clock and 49 other two-person, student teams from around the country, aspiring auto technicians Bradley J. Bolton and Aaron Clay, seniors at Paris High School, Paris, TX needed 29 minutes and 34 seconds to accurately diagnose and fix their Ford Mustang Convertible to win the 2006 FORD/AAA STUDENT AUTO SKILLS national finals this morning here in Henry Ford's hometown.

The pair, who spent months preparing for the competition with their instructor, Michael Schmidt, took home thousands of dollars in prizes and scholarships to a number of the nation's top auto technology colleges. Hoping to encourage students to pursue automotive careers, Ford and AAA handed out a total of more than $6 million in prizes to the competition's participants.

"Aaron and Bradley today proved they are America's most auto savvy teens," Allan Stanley, manager of Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills, said. "Their hard work and drive to be the top high school auto technicians is typical of every participant here. The auto industry must attract such dedicated young people to keep America's vehicles operating safely and trouble-free."

Second place went to Travis Bradfield and Ken Netcher, seniors at Vale High School in Vale, OR. Mark Mitchell and Raymond Swan, seniors at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, IL, took third place. Teams placing second through 10th in the Ford/AAA contest received general education scholarships valued from $2,000 to $400 from Ford Motor Co. and AAA as well as partial scholarships to top-rated auto tech colleges.

Each year, the Student Auto Skills competition determines the nation's best high school auto techs through a two-part test. Following a written exam counting towards 40 percent of their overall score, the 50 two-person teams -- each representing a state -- convened outside Ford World Headquarters this morning for the hands-on portion, worth 60 percent of their total.

Responding to the call, "Gentlemen, start your engines, if you can," at 9:15 a.m., the teams raced to 50 2006 Ford Mustang Convertibles with identical mechanical problems. After popping the hood, they had 90 minutes to diagnose and repair numerous "bugs" in the starting, charging, ignition, electrical, lighting, braking, climate control and/or power train systems. The team from Texas drove their car across the finish line, winning the contest after judges determined they had removed all the bugs.

"Millions of car owners depend on well-trained auto technicians to maintain and repair their vehicles," said John Nielsen, director of the AAA Approved Auto Repair program. "Co-sponsoring the Auto Skills contest, as we have since 1984, is one way AAA ensures that consumers' vehicles are properly cared for at all AAA-inspected and approved repair facilities."

Darryl Hazel, senior vice president of Ford Motor Company and president, Ford Customer Service Division, said, "Ford and its dealer network offer these contestants and other talented young people unparalleled opportunities to train for a high-tech career with excellent salaries.

"Increasingly, technician positions provide such benefits as insurance coverage, paid vacations, and retirement savings programs. Co-sponsoring the Auto Skills competition enables Ford to keep attracting the best young technicians to our professional technician training programs and to careers in our dealer network," Hazel said.

For the sixth year in a row, 11 Ford-certified Master Technicians competed in a similar contest adjacent to the students, vying for $350,000 in cash and prizes in the Ford Ultimate Master Technician Challenge.

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