“I honestly didn’t expect to win,” said Joel Hartstack, May 2017 Southwestern Community College (SWCC) auto collision repair and refinish graduate.
Hartstack was named the country’s 2017 collision repair technology champion at the National SkillsUSA Championships held June 18-23 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Hartstack, who earned a diploma in auto collision repair and refinish from SWCC in June 2016, and then continued to earn his Associate of Applied Science degree in auto collision repair and refinish in May 2017, is a 2012 graduate of Clarinda High School.
“Honestly,” said Hartstack, “my background would be that I always kind of liked tinkering around with cars. And it’s something that I’ve just enjoyed doing as a free time type thing — and I figured if I can do it and make money at it, I might as well give her a shot.
“I decided to enter it (the competition),” Hartstack said, “because I thought it’d be fun to compete. And I figured I’d get the day off of class, and since I got the chance to go to nationals, I figured — ‘Hey, it’s a week off of work, and I knew you could win some cool tools’ — so I thought I may as well give her a shot.”
The National SkillsUSA Championships is an industry elite level of competition. Contestants hail from all 50 states, each having won their respective divisions’ state competitions.
The purpose of the championships is to “reward students for excellence, to involve industry in directly evaluating student performance and to keep training relevant to employers’ needs.”
Throughout the championships, more than 6,000 contestants competed across 100 different events. SkillsUSA is a multi-million-dollar event, and occupies a space equivalent to 16 football fields.
The collision repair technology championship that Hartstack won gold in ran four days. Contestants were tested on knowledge of business ethics (table setting, meeting etiquette), written certification tests, estimate analysis and writing, preparatory job interviews including resumes and applications and finally a series of hands-on tests, including structural repair of damaged car frames, vertical and overhead welding, straightening and repairing sheet metal fenders and plastic bumper repair.
“(It was a) very strict competition,” said SWCC auto collision repair and refinish instructor Jeff Magneson, who accompanied Hartstack to the championships.
“As a matter of fact,” said Magneson, “if they get their cell phone out, they’re disqualified. If they talk to anybody over the fence, they’re disqualified. If they have to go to the bathroom, they’re escorted to make sure there’s no cheating or anything like that. They have to wear a uniform — you almost compare it to the military. They’re very strict and disciplined about their competition.”
After these four days of competition, Hartstack emerged as gold champion. And although he did not expect to win, others were less surprised.
“Joel — and he’s received our outstanding student award — we knew we had a high quality student,” said Magneson. “He’s a farm kid, and anytime you get that you get a pretty good work ethic — and they’re pretty good with their hands — so we pretty well knew he was top-tier. And that’s the neat part of these contests; it gives you a neat chance to see how your students stack up against other programs in other states, and he definitely proved himself.”
“Joel is pretty laid back and confident,” Magneson continued. “He doesn’t get rattled very easy. He’s very intelligent — he picks up on things very quickly. And we don’t do a lot of practice for these competitions, so we kind of rely on the training we’ve been doing for these last two years to prepare them. And Joel represented Southwestern and Iowa very well. Couldn’t have asked for better.”
And what’s next for Hartstack? Does he plan on continuing in auto collision repair?
“Definitely — and as a career. That’s what I’m planning,” Hartstack said. “That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s what I like doing. I feel like I can make some money at it, and not hate going to work everyday.”