Rayce Edmondson talks skills, challenges and success

Published 10:30 am Thursday, July 20, 2023

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VALLEY — Inspire Academy student Rayce Edmondson and his automotive teacher, James Winkles, were the guest speakers at Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club. Mr. Winkles talked about the many years he has spent preparing students for automotive skills competitions, first at Troup High and now at Inspire Academy. Rayce discussed what he went through in preparing for a national skills competition he finished second in.

Edmondson said that in his growing years, he’d long thought about a law enforcement career. In the tenth grade, though, he started taking automotive-related courses. “I didn’t know how to put gas in the car,” he said. “I had a lot to learn.”

Edmondson was reluctant to get into competitions. “I was in the marching band (at Valley High), and we practiced after school,” he said.

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He didn’t start training for automotive competitions until late in his junior year.

“It started out as a hobby and grew into a career,” he said.

He first got hands-on experience in automotive servicing at LaGrange Toyota. He then went to a repair shop in Cusseta before getting on with Four Star Freightliner in Valley.

“They have been lenient with my training, and I appreciate that,” he said.

Many passersby on I-85 see the shiny new trucks that are for sale at Four Star Freightliner, but there are many, many more that have been brought there for repair. Well trained and experienced Four Star diesel mechanics do their part in keeping our country’s truck fleet moving.

When asked by a member of the club what was the most problematic areas for him to learn, Edmondson told them that it was electronics, transmissions and service manual material.

Winkles quickly added that his prized pupil scored perfectly in the electronics portion of the national competition.

Edmondson said he started training for the competition by working with Kia Optima. He said there are between 30 and 40 switches in each Optima, and the student has to know what each one does.

“You can follow a service chart, but you have to make the right measurements,” he said.

Students who do well in these elite competitions are the ones who have put in the time and the work to understand what they are doing.

“It’s like being a member of a high school football team,” he said. “You don’t start practicing for a big game the day before it takes place. You plan well ahead and work through any possible problems you could have.”

Automotive competitions take more preparation time than most other competitions. A motor-driven vehicle is a very complex piece of equipment, and there’s much learning to do.

“You have to go through a lot of steps before you get to hands-on experience,” Edmondson said.

As one example of learning by doing, Club President Phillip Sparks asked members of the club where did they think the instructions for properly inflating the tires on a Mercedes was.  He told them they were on the inner portion of the gas cap. “Who would think to do that?” he said. “It’s what one learns with experience.”

Edmondson said there were some things he was not expecting but had to quickly figure out in the nationals. “The charts I was given were completely different from what I had trained on,” he said. “The testing was all over the charts.”

Even so, he came in second in a highly rigorous national event. He took part in the national finals last year and came in 18th. That first-year experience was very helpful in preparing him to compete in his senior year in high school.

This year’s national finals took place inside the World Congress Center in Atlanta. Taking part were champions from all 50 states and three territories. It’s a $36 million event with many different competitions being reviewed by more than 1,200 judges—only the best students in a given field place high in this competition.

Edmondson hopes to attend Four Star Freightliner’s training school in Dothan to be a diesel mechanic. He’d like to gain certification in the field.

Winkles said that anyone certified in any automotive repair field will be able to find a good-paying job. ‘If there’s something wrong with your truck, you have to get it fixed, and only a trained person can do that,” he said.

Before coming to Inspire Academy, Winkles retired from the Troup County system, where he had coached many of his students to do well in regional, state, and national competitions.

At Troup, he had many students finish in the top ten in highly competitive events. He had four students placing in the top three.

Edmondson is his first student to place second in a national event.

He missed the top spot by 45 points. That’s a very scant margin with as many events that were judged.