Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and the architect behind the “Miracle on Ice,” the U.S.’s stunning upset over a heavily favored Russian team.
I got to spend part of December with another, much smaller, group of Americans in search of their own miracle moment on an international stage.
I was a guest of Isuzu Commercial Truck of America (ICTA) or, as they were known during the competition, Team USA at Isuzu’s plant in Fujisawa, Japan for the company’s global technician competition.
With contestants from 32 countries, Isuzu’s I-1 Grand Prix World Technician Competition is the medium-duty mechanic Olympics.
Kiel Trout, of RWC Isuzu Truck-Seattle, and Matthew Bertagnoli, of Lynch Isuzu Truck, represented Old Glory honorably, taking home a silver medal – the second consecutive year the States have landed in the Top 2.
That’s an incredible feat considering in the event’s 13 year history, Team USA has medaled only twice: This year and last. The one constant over that run is the team’s coach and ICTA Technical Training Specialist Justin Ridings.
Kiel and Matthew reap much of the glory – they’re kind of the Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione of this story – but Justin’s job was to put the whole thing together, keep the whole thing organized and make the whole thing work. He’s ICTA’s Herb Brooks.
Ridings attributes the team’s success to ICTA’s investment in state-of-the-art Center of Excellence training facilities in Pittston, Penn., and Anaheim, Calif., as well as the development of a North American version of the contest, which identifies the top three technicians in the company’s dealer network and then hones their skills in preparation for the Isuzu worldwide competition.
He’ll undersell how important he is to this entire process if you let him, but I won’t let him.
Ridings had to pick which tech was assigned to which task. He had roughly three weeks to learn what made these guys tick, what their strengths were and where to put them so all their talents complimented one another.
Ridings had about 15 days to train and drill the team and alternate Josiah Carr on a Japanese commercial truck platform that is mostly unlike the ones they see every day. The number of Isuzu trucks these guys work on in a year: hundreds. The number of Japanese versions they’d seen up to that point: Zero.
In a span of two-years with Ridings at the helm, Team USA has gone from also-ran to consistent contender.
By virtue of finishing in the Top 3, both Trout and Bertagnoli are required to retire from competition, and Ridings is one more medal away from having to find another role for himself.
Herb Brooks also left the sport with three medals.
Team USA’s “Miracle on Ice” moment may have fallen a little short with a silver, but there were important victories along the way.
In the written test, the scores of each team’s two members were combined. For the practical exam, each team had to find and repair a fault in an engine using the correct tools and methods in 45 minutes or less. Team USA notched the best written test score in their division. Team Japan – a six time winner of the Grand Prix – needed a win in the practical exercise to eek out first place overall.
“We are so proud of our team,” says ICTA President Shaun Skinner. “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.”
In our Isuzu “Miracle on Ice” story, Shaun Skinner is Jimmy Carter with one important distinction: He travelled with the team to Japan, cheered them on and was part of their gallery. There was no post-game phone call from the president. There were hugs, handshakes, high-fives and cellphone selfies.
Team USA’s ride in the I-1 Grand Prix is no miracle and it’s no fluke. It’s built on the backs of people like Ridings and Skinner who made commitments to and investments in excellence. And people like Carr, Bertagnoli and Trout – and last year’s second place team of Tim McCarty, of Rush Truck Center of Atlanta, and Trevor Shrader, of CIT Trucks in Rockford, Ill. – who sacrificed nearly a month of time with their friends and family to bring some glory to the boys and girls back home.
Maybe you don’t believe in miracles but it’s easy to believe in a group of people who relentlessly pursue greatness, and I believe the makings of something special is bubbling at ICTA. And I believe that will lead to gold sooner rather than later.