LIMA, Ohio — As a pit crew member for a motorsports team, Ross Albertson likes to race against the clock and work under pressure.
It made sense then that Mr. Albertson would want to participate in qualifying event for the inaugural U.S. Auto Tech National Championship competition taking place on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH).
"I like to challenge myself," Mr. Albertson said. "And I like to support UNOH. I learned a lot there."
The college campus, which has a number of auto-related majors, was the first stop in the March Madness-style event to find the best professional and student technicians in the country.
Mr. Albertson took top honors in the professional category. In addition to the competition in Lima, winners in both the professional and student categories were crowned in Boston, Chicago and Detroit. The final field of 32 professionals and 32 students was rounded out at events in Atlanta and Springville, Utah.
The national championship will be held Dec. 13-14 in Nashville. Three professional and three student winners will take home first-, second- and third-place honors, and split $200,000 in cash and prizes.
The competition is the brainchild of Ideal Industries Inc., which manufactures equipment and tools for the trades, and marketing firm Intersport. Ideal has held a similar competition for electricians for five years. It said both contests help create awareness of career opportunities in the trades.
Competitors are timed on how quickly they can remove and replace a strut assembly, remove and replace an outer tie rod, and adjust the toe angle to factory specifications. They are judged on whether all components are installed and torqued properly, and their overall safety, workmanship and procedure.
Contestants can be penalized by adding seconds or minutes to their final time. Violations include safety glasses not worn, tools not returned to original location, components not torqued properly (each 10 seconds) or hitting the bottom of the tie rod with a hammer (10 minutes).
The creators of the competition logged a time around 8 minutes, and judges have been pleasantly surprised with some of the fast times.
Mr. Albertson was at a race in Indiana for the weekend but drove back to Ohio on Saturday to compete. He took his time during his first attempt, clocking in at 15 minutes. He tried three more times, knocking minutes off until he finished one in 5:47 with no deductions. He was satisfied with that time, and headed back to Indiana for more racing.
If the event were held a year ago, Mr. Albertson would have been competing in the student division (he's a 2020 UNOH graduate).
This year's winner in that category was Ashtin Slizewski, a second-year UNOH student majoring in high-performance motorsports. The 19-year-old bested his UNOH peers and other students from around the state and region to win top honors with a time of 5:16 with no deductions.
Mr. Slizewski, who also is a campus tour guide, tried his hand at the competition about "15 to 20 times" throughout the weekend in between showing prospective students around the university grounds.
"You find a rhythm, and you get certain things down" the more times you try, he said.
He added it was a fun event, with instructors bringing students over to compete. It's nice to have bragging rights on campus for the year, he said.
He doesn't know what he'll be tested on at the finals but plans to brush up on some basic service problems to get ready.
Same for Mr. Albertson, who says he'll show up in Nashville and "do the best I can."
"I'm excited to be one of the 32 professionals to qualify," he said. "I hope to do well. I've got some student loans I need to pay off."