The training regimen was vigorous, demanding.
The expectations were even greater. Anything less than perfection was unacceptable, deemed a failure.
The accomplishment was historic.
Jordan Kearns and Chandler Adkins did what no other Riverton students ever had, and what no Utah duo had accomplished in nearly a decade, when they placed fourth in the Ford/AAA National Auto Skills competition earlier this summer in Dearborn, Mich.
“We were aiming for top 10,” Adkins said. “So, when we were in the top five, that was freaking sweet.”
The students, under the guidance of instructor Jay Hales, put in as many as eight hours a day preparing for the state competition in April, at which they diagnosed and fixed 15 electrical and engine performance problems on a Ford Focus.
Aside from a scuff on the bumper, the car met the pair’s goal when they drove across the finish line.
“Having a perfect car was our objective,” Kearns said. “They try to put in the nitty-grittiest things they can find to throw at you. To the best of our knowledge, we had gotten all of them.”
That goal of a perfect car again was met at the national competition at the Ford world headquarters. None of Hales’ three previous teams in the past 13 years had achieved perfection in the hands-on portion of the competition.
“The highest [Riverton] had ever done was 23rd place,” Hales said. “This year I sat them down and said I don’t care how long it takes to get the car fixed, we just want to make sure it’s perfect. Everything that I asked of them, they did.”
Under what Kearns described as intense pressure — “It was hard not to psych yourself out” — the duo delivered and became the first Utah team to place in the top 10 since the Dixie College High School Program took seventh in 2003.
Kansas’ Newton High School took top honors, followed by Michigan’s Saline High and Illinois’ Willowbrook High.
The Utah team turned in one of six perfect cars, accurately diagnosing and fixing problems such as malfunctioning turn signals, taillights and intermittent wipers on a 2012 Ford Fiesta.
Theirs was actually the second perfect car to cross the finish line, but their score in the written portion of the competition dropped them to fourth.
“When we passed the inspection point,” Kearns said, “we knew it was perfect and we were at least in the top 10.”
The accomplishment was made more special by the fact that the classmates are also neighbors and best friends.
“I don’t know if we would have had the same results had he or I worked with somebody else,” Adkins said. “We just work so well together.”
The students were rewarded handsomely for their efforts. Each received about $70,000 in scholarships at the state and national level, in addition to about $1,500 worth of tools and equipment. Overall, nearly $12 million in scholarships were awarded at the state and national level of the competition, which is in its 63rd year.
Kearns and Adkins also toured the Henry Ford Museum and visited the Rousch Performance Factory where Ford builds the F-150 pickup truck.
Adkins, who graduated in the spring, plans to use the scholarship money after taking a two-year LDS Church mission. He plans to pursue a career in marine mechanics. Kearns, a senior at Riverton this year, will pursue a career as an automotive mechanic.
Under the hood
Riverton’s Jordan Kearns and Chandler Adkins placed fourth in a national auto skills competition in June.
The competition featured a written test on areas such as brakes, suspension, electronics, engine performance and drive train, and a hands-on portion in which teams diagnosed and solved problems on a 2012 Ford Fiesta.
Kearns and Adkins turned in one of six perfect cars in the timed competition and became the second Utah team in a decade to finish in the top 10.