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RACINE — Bill Bertagnoli always thought his son Matt was special. But it wasn’t until he wanted to cut his lawn one day that he knew Matt might have some unique skills.

“He (Matt) liked to tinker in the garage and one day I wanted to use the gas edger for the lawn and it was all torn apart,” he said. “That kind of set the tone for better things to come.”

Bill was right. Earlier this month, Matt competed on a two-man team in a global competition that tests the skills of technicians who work for Japan-based Isuzu, a medium-duty truck manufacturer. The 13th annual Isuzu One Grand Prix World Technician Competition took place on Dec. 6 at the Isuzu Monozukuri Service Training Center in Fujisawa, Japan. The competition included 32 countries — the American team took second place; a team from the Philippines was declared the competition’s grand champion.

Matt, an 18-year veteran technician who works at Lynch Isuzu Truck in Rochester, attended Park High School and Gateway Technical College in Racine. He says he was interested in science and geometry in high school, but “fell into” technician work when he was young by fixing cars and other things in the garage. He has since moved on to fixing some of the largest trucks in the world.

“I wanted to be able to fix it myself,” he said. “I like figuring out how stuff works and then figuring out why it doesn’t, too.”

The competitions

Every Isuzu technician has to be up to date on training to even be eligible to compete in the skills competition — a feat that took Matt seven years. He flew back and forth to Isuzu North America training facilities in California and Pennsylvania, spending up to a week in training at the facilities.

After all his training was up to date, he took a written test to qualify for the Isuzu North America skills competition — a competition that decides who qualifies for the global competition. About 145 technicians across the continent took the written test — Matt was one of only 12 technicians who made it to the final skills competition in Pittston, Pa., last August.

The North American competition included three exercises — two of the tests were focused on diagnostics and repairs. A written test also was part of the exercises. Matt said he was ready for the test, as the main part of his job as an Isuzu technician is problem-solving; he usually runs emission and diagnostic tests on the trucks and physically inspects vehicles for any issues.

Matt says he felt great about his performance at the North American competition.

“I was surprised at how well I did,” he said. “That day I felt really confident.”

Two other technicians were picked to compete in the global competition that took place at Isuzu’s Training Center in Japan. However, only Matt and Kiel Trout from Seattle were selected to compete on the day of the competition. The team spent a total of three weeks in Pennsylvania training for the competition. They spent additional time completing written tests in preparation. The team also flew to Japan a few days before the competition to prepare.

“Pulling up and basically getting red-carpet, VIP treatment and to be able to meet global dignitaries … it was awesome,” said Matt.

The global competition was much like the North American competition. After the written portion of the competition, Matt and his partner moved on to the practical exam, which they had 45 minutes to complete. Matt remembers being very anxious during this part of the competition.

“The coach turns to me and says, ‘it’s a gearbox’ and I said I’ve never taken one of those apart before and I started to freak out,” he said. “While we were waiting, my coach did a quick overview of what to do. I had to measure these pieces and reassemble it.”

Matt says he followed a step-by-step procedure manual that was provided and finished the test with time to spare.

“The whole time it’s going on you can’t get your breath,” Matt said.

Justin Ridings, the team’s coach and the technical training specialist for Isuzu Commercial Truck of America, said Matt settled down quickly.

“We didn’t necessarily practice on the gear but we were able to talk each other through the gear and where to measure it,” Ridings said. “Once we were reading about it his comfort level widely increased.”

Matt’s performance helped the Isuzu Commercial Truck of America (ICTA) team finish in second place for the second year in a row.

“We are so proud of our team,” said Shaun Skinner, president of Isuzu Commercial Truck of America. “Matt’s and Kiel’s diagnostic and repair skills represented ICTA beautifully and demonstrated that Isuzu service technicians in the United States can go toe to toe with the best technicians in the world.”

Back at home

Matt said he was excited to get back home and teach some of the technicians at his shop. He said he doesn’t want to work in a shop his whole life, as he is also interested in research and development.

“I was joking that I want to hurry up and win so I can go back because I have three to four technicians I’m mentoring right now,” he said.

Matt said he will recommend the competition to his mentees.

“But it’s not for the faint of heart,” he said.

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