Top tech returns from Japan with high honors
Local 'motorman' Eric Romanowicz gives a pretty simple answer when asked how he got into sport-engine repair: "I bought a bike (motorcycle) when I was 18 and wanted to know how to fix it."
Romanowicz attended a trade school in Arizona after graduating River Falls High School in 1992. Fifteen years ago he found a job at Mondus Motorsports in Hudson.
The business sells new Yamaha bikes, snowmobiles, ATVs, personal watercraft and generators, as well as some Honda products.
That started him on a path that led to the Oct. 23-24 Yamaha World Technician Grand Prix in Japan, where he stayed a week and competed against 28 other techs from 20 different countries -- bringing home a third-place trophy in the sport category.
Romanowicz landed in the contest after taking and mastering Yamaha's three-tiered system of training to become a "pro Yamaha tech."
He came away with the title at those contests, qualifying to be the U.S. representative in Yamaha's international competition.
Romanowicz said Yamaha normally hosts the competition every two years, but due to the economy, hadn't held a Grand Prix since 2007.
The contest made an exception this year and allowed two representatives from America to compete.
The other man is Mark Sagers of Utah, who qualified for the Grand Prix two years ago. Sagers took 2nd place in the sport category while Romanowicz tied with a Frenchman for third place, and a German man named Thorsten Brand won first.
Romanowicz explains how the contest happens only once in a lifetime: "Now that I've gone, I can't go again."
Yamaha's website says the contest aims to judge a technician's ability to provide "proper service knowledge and skills, relations that communicate the appeal of the product and friendly customer service."
The contest challenges the techs' repair knowledge, theory and technique, as well as their customer-service skills. Winners are whoever scores the most cumulative points in three test areas.
Romanowicz arrived in Tokyo, Japan on a Sunday after a 13-½ -hour flight, then took a bullet train to Yamaha's headquarters in Iwata.
Tuesday brought the first contest -- a written exam of about 40 questions with a 50-minute time limit. He said everyone read carefully the questions that had been translated from Japanese.
The next day he competed in customer service exercise of delivering a completed repair to the customer.
Romanowicz said he and most of the other techs became nervous since that room was filled with cameras, bright stage lights and an audience.
"They were looking to see how you work with a customer," he said, "how they want it versus what you were doing."
For example, Romanowicz scored points where others lost because during his routine maintenance and safety check, he found and cleaned a dirty mirror and headlight.
"That actually burned quite a few people," he said about the small safety items.
Next the contest asked each technician to fix a non-running R6 motorcycle on a lift. Both of his technical problems involved the fuel-injection system. Judges look also at how long it takes the tech to find and fix the problem.
A first, second or third place in the contest yielded the winning tech bragging rights; a trophy; a backpack; and a special, engraved, commemorative tool set, which Romanowicz says will be "for display only." He and Sagers didn't mind that the extra gear made their bags overweight for the trip home.
Romanowicz said Yamaha treats its top techs to the entire trip -- travel, meals, lodging and tourism. The technicians toured the Yamaha music and motorsports factory, which he says was interesting.
He enjoyed a big party after the competition, as well as nice dinners of traditional Japanese fare. He tried a lot of different kinds of sushi and says all the guests used chop sticks at each meal. Romanowicz also ate one traditional-Japanese tofu meal but said he probably won't seek another.
Romanowicz said it was neat hanging out with people from other countries and that on orientation day, "There were about 20 different languages going on in the room at once."
A long bus ride to the city of Osaka prompted a karaoke party. Romanowicz was surprised to see small kids out late and taking the subway in a city about the size of Minneapolis, but he also noted that Osaka seemed exceptionally clean and safe.
He also saw Kyoto with all of its shrines, castles and amazing architecture.
Romanowicz was impressed by the Golden Pavilion, part of a Buddhist temple, that on its upper floors is coated with 46 pounds of pure gold, as well as the Nijo castle. The latter was built in the 1650s and is still in "perfect" condition.
The 'motorman' of River Falls said besides going to Mexico, this was his first international travel. He reiterates it was a once in a lifetime experience rich in cultural and professional education and enjoyment.
People can read much more about the Yamaha World Technician Grand Prix at Yamaha's website: www.yamaha.com