After winning the state competition, two Thomson High School seniors will travel to Michigan to compete in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals. Following a Thomson tradition of years of state winners, Daniel Pilgrim and Billy Markley are taking advice from their predecessors with them.
"I've warned the guys they are going to love it up there, but there's only one bad thing: There ain't no sweet tea up there," said their teacher, Jason Brooks, who competed in the national competition as a student in 1998 and has been back twice since then as an instructor. "They'll give you some colored water that they call tea, and that's all they give you."
Billy said he works at the Ford dealership with another former state winner, Lee Treadwell, who challenged Billy to beat his place in the national finals. But Billy and Daniel already set their goal.
"I'd be tickled to death to be in the top 25," Billy said. "With the test scores, time limit and demerits, the contest is pretty complicated."
Hopefully the national competition will go as smoothly for the Thomson duo as the state competition did in Perry, Ga. last month.
"I thought I'd be nervous, but once we got out there with the car and figured out we were ahead of everybody else, I felt better," Daniel said. "I've been wanting to win that competition since middle school."
To qualify for competition, the students take an exam online and the two students who score the best become the school's team for the state competition. Out of the 50 questions, Daniel and Billy got 35 and 38 correct. Their combined score counted 40 percent of their score in the state finals, which moved them on to the "hands-on" state competition.
Mr. Brooks said Daniel and Billy "kind of kicked tail as far as the time goes," finishing about 20 minutes ahead of anyone else, "but they did get two demerits for not answering two questions on the repair order. And that was something the contest had never done before."
"They had a perfect car, it was just the repair order with two questions, so that gave them two demerits," Mr. Brooks said. "They are two excellent students, two smart kids who will make fine technicians. They are tough to beat because they worked well under pressure. I'm very proud of them, very proud."
Daniel and Billy won $40,000 in scholarships, savings bonds, a trophy, jackets, certificates, and automotive equipment. They also won the all-expense paid trip to Dearborn, Mich. For the nationals, June 14-16.
The son of Danny and Rose Pilgrim, Daniel grew up working around cars because his father owns Pilgrim and Sons Garage in Thomson. Billy, who is the son of Billy and Angela Markley, said he worked on tractors with his grandfather for years. He now works at Wallace and Sons.