Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge

At Irwin Tools Tradesmen event

Six incredibly talented tradesmen from nearly all corners of the globe were brought together to compete for the top position in the Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. These six guys were not chosen by chance, but by rather by their displays of speed and adeptness in working with their hands. Altogether over 16,000 folks competed in nine countries and 250 events all over the globe to finally be whittled down to the six that represented the very best of the best in their respective countries.

These six finalists were already recognized and award-winning champions in their own regions but there needed to be ONE ultimate world winner and that’s what this weekend was all about. The location could not be more fitting and appropriate with the Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge taking place at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Jeff Byrd 500 (otherwise known as the Food City 500) With the festive atmosphere that a race weekend brings, there was plenty of enthusiastic spectators to cheer the guys on.

Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge World Finals

What is the Irwin Ultimate Tradesman Challenge?

Irwin’s Ultimate Tradesman Challenge is a global competition where skilled tradesmen perform a series of precise tasks in a race against the clock. Contestants first use Irwin VISE-GRIP GrooveLock pliers to remove two (2) pipe fittings from a qualifying channel (Grip It). They then use an Irwin square and pencil to mark three (3) lines on a standard 2″ x 4″ x 24″ board, at pre-marked positions.

Contestants then slide the board into a cutting position and securely clamps it to the work surface with an Irwin QUICK-GRIP XP600 one-handed bar clamp. The contestant then uses an Irwin Universal Handsaw to cut the board on the line previously marked (Rip It). And finally, using an Irwin Speedbor Max Speed drill bit, contestant drills two (2) holes in the board at the intersecting lines (Drive It), unclamps the board, places the clamp on the competition cart, and puts the board in the qualifying channel. If the board fits accurately, the clock automatically stops.

Speed; ability to remove pipe fittings; accurate marking; ability to clamp work securely; fast, straight cuts; and the ability to accurately drill holes are crucial to winning the challenge. The Ultimate Tradesman Challenge is a true test of on-the-job skills.

Over 250 Competitions in 9 Countries

Irwin Tools hosted over 250 competitions in nine countries to identify the top six competitors who can Grip It, Rip It, and Drive It faster than any other tradesman. On Sunday, March 20, 2011, they crowned the Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge World Champion.

“Irwin Tools is excited to host these talented competitors at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Ultimate Tradesman Challenge World Finals. At Irwin, we are dedicated to meeting the needs of professional tradesmen. These trade professionals make a real difference in their communities each and every day because of the work they do. Our competition is a celebration of their contributions and talent.”

Curt Rahilly, VP of Marketing for Irwin Tools

Getting Settled In

Our weekend began on Friday night with a party honoring all the participants that had come together for one last weekend of fighting it out on the clock. All the guys seemed to have a pretty calm demeanor at the dinner but we are pretty sure that their nerves were a little frayed. This was the first time the six competitors had met each other and it was their first chance to size up the competition. I had the opportunity to dine with Delwyn Thornton from Brandon, Mississippi, who was the North American Champion.

It was interesting to hear his side of the story that brought him from his shoe repair business back home to the event. Really, it began over a year earlier after he heard an announcement on one of his favorite morning radio shows about some kind of tradesmen competition. At the urging of this wife, Delwyn showed up to see what it was all about. What Delwyn saw and experienced that day was a taste of what all the other competitors were doing elsewhere around the globe.

The Challenge

In the Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge, tradesmen are required to perform a series of tasks in a race against the clock. Since this is an Irwin-sponsored event, it is only fitting that Irwin tools are used. To start, the finalists grab a pair of Vise-Grip GrooveLock pliers to remove two pipe fittings from a qualifying channel. Then, they use a square and pencil to mark three lines on a standard 2″ x 4″ x 24″ board, at pre-marked positions. Sliding the board into a cutting position, they clamp it securely to the work surface with an XP600 Quick-Grip one-handed bar clamp. Using an Irwin Universal Handsaw, they cut the board on the line previously marked.

Using a Speedbor Max Speed drill bit, the tradesmen drill two holes in the board at the intersecting lines, unclamp the board, and put the board in the qualifying channel. If the board fits correctly, the clock automatically stops and the challenge time is noted. Now while this might seem easy, there are a number of rules and technicalities. For example – you are automatically disqualified for dropping tools, and all the used tools must be placed back on the bench when each task is finished. While speed is a huge factor, the ability to remove pipe fittings, do accurate markings, clamp work securely, perform fast and straight cuts, and accurately drill holes are all crucial to winning the challenge.

Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge finalists
The six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge finalists from around the world

What was fun to learn from Delwyn is that he did not win the first time he tried and that it actually took him great persistence, a lot of practice, and a number of tries. In fact, to hone his skills he actually bit a rig similar to the actual Irwin competition bench and did hours of training at his home and shop. His wife lovingly jokes that Delwyn went through enough 2x4s to build an addition to their home through his efforts. But his efforts did pay off as he eliminated competitor after competitor with his blazing speeds. He was able to do the Challenge in 28.8 seconds. Now that is fast, but I really didn’t understand how fast until I had the chance to try for myself.

Irwin Tools event - game time 1
Marc Lyman of battles the clock

Media Getting in on the Action

Saturday afternoon, before the big showdown at the race track, we entered the competition area. The folks at Irwin thought it would be fun to have us media guys do a little pre-competition to see how we would fare at the Ultimate Tradesman Challenge. I knew we were in for a treat as some of the best and brightest writers and editors were invited.

The even cooler thing is that this challenge showed whether or not we could use the tools as well as we could write about them. Almost all of us had numbers that were well less than 60 seconds right out of the hole, but cutting that time down lower was the challenge. To give us a little incentive, they put a pretty good prize out in front and the competition really started. For scoring, they used the best time out of three tries to qualify for the prize.

When the smoke cleared, the competition came down to me and Kevin Boyle of Wood Magazine. He was quick with the best time of 42 seconds which I was not able to beat with my best time of 44 seconds. Doing this competition gave me a new appreciation for what it took to bring the times down to less than 30 seconds to be competitive with the world champions.

Irwin Tools event - game time
Battling it out Head to Head

The Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors

Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors 1

Representing North America from Brandon, Mississippi is Delwyn Thornton. Thornton has been the owner of Soles and Heels Shoe Repair for 27 years and says his favorite Irwin tool is QUICK-GRIP clamps. When he isn’t working on shoes, Thornton likes to get out and ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors 1

South America’s hopes lie in the hands of Brazilian Champion Helmut Radke Neto. Helmut, from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil is the owner of an ice cream machine parts manufacturer. He enjoys playing paintball and says that his favorite Irwin tool is VICE-GRIP GrooveLock Pliers.

Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors 3

Bjørn Ravn Kühlmeier is the 2010 Scandinavian Champion. From, Erritsø, Fredericia, Denmark, Bjørn is a self-employed carpenter or “selvstændig tømrer.” Kühlmeier enjoys relaxing with family and friends in his free time.

Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors 4

Representing the UK/Ireland is Daniel Shepherd. Shepherd is from Halifax, England, and is a carpenter/joiner. Shepherd’s hobbies include building custom cars and driving the Aston Martin that he won in the UK/Ireland Ultimate Tradesman Challenge championship. As a carpenter, the Irwin Tools Universal Handsaw is Shepherd’s tool of choice.

Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors 5

Matthew “Matt” Francis will be representing Australia/New Zealand in the Ultimate Tradesman Challenge World Finals. Francis is from Townsville, Queensland, Australia where he works as a secondary school industrial arts teacher and is the head of the Industrial Technology & Design Department. Francis’ favorite Irwin tool is QUICK-GRIP clamps.

Six Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Competitors 6

Rounding out the competition is Eastern European Champion Krystof Doroziński. Doroziński is from Stawka Wielka, Poland, where he is a carpenter. When Doroziński isn’t practicing his trade, he likes to spend time outdoors hunting and fishing.

Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Semi-Finals

Flashing Forward a few hours to Saturday evening, we found ourselves at the Ultimate Tradesman Challenge semi-finals trackside at the Bristol Motor Speedway. The first stage of the match was to eliminate two contestants through a series of round-robin style competitions which gave each competitor a chance to face off against every other competitor. Each match was a one-try deal.

The four guys with the most wins moved on to the next bracket which was played out again until the two guys with the most wins would be allowed to move on to the World Finals scheduled for the following morning before the big race. The final two contestants to move on to to the finals were Daniel Shepherd from the UK and Delwyn Thornton representing North America.

Irwin Tools event - finalists
The Two Finalists Daniel Shepherd and Delwyn Thornton

The Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Final Showdown

Sunday morning trackside at the Bristol Motor Speedway was the final showdown. With a special Irwin stage setup and throngs of enthusiastic race fans, the last two contestants would battle it out in a head-to-head battle with the fastest out of three attempts taking the trophy and the cash prize. To help get the crowd pumped; Jamie McMurray (#1 Bass Pro Shops car) and Jeff Hammond (Fox New NASCAR commentator) made appearances and even did a head-to-head with each other at the Ultimate Tradesman Challenge. Jamie took the lead by just a few seconds over Jeff in the end.

Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge World Finals - event
Fox News Jeff Hammond and Bass Pro Shops Car #1 Driver Jamie McMurray

Now a lot was at stake here for the last two contestants with the potential to win one million dollars on the line. In the end, Daniel Shepherd completed the final round of the competition in a blistering 25.07 seconds, beating out North America’s Delwyn Thornton, by a few seconds. At this point, the winner had the chance to win up to one million dollars. On the back of the stage were 25 Irwin tool bags. The big deal was that each had a single check inside for either $10,000, $25,000, or $1 million bucks and Daniel had to pick one.

With the crowd shouting numbers and suggestions as to what bag to pick. He grabbed a bag and inside was a check for $10,000. When Daniel was asked his thoughts on the Ultimate Tradesman Challenge he said, “This competition has opened so many doors for me thanks to Irwin Tools. I thought being the UK/Ireland Ultimate Tradesman Challenge Champion was out of this world. The world competition has surpassed all my wildest dreams.”

Irwin Tools Ultimate Tradesman Challenge World Finals - winner
Daniel Shepherd Taking the Prize

Final Thoughts

The whole idea behind the competition was to recognize skilled tradesmen from around the world. These guys are the ones that build your homes, fix your cars, unclog drains and make the world work. So many times these jobs are taken for granted and even looked down upon. What Irwin has done is try to elevate the guy that works with his hands day in and day out to a level that shows off their skill and talent in a way that has not been done before.

Curt Rahilly, vice president of marketing for Irwin Tools says, “We’ve been impressed by the skill and passion tradesmen bring to this competition. We congratulate Daniel on his big win, and we thank all the competitors for participating in this exciting competition of skill. Irwin is dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the contributions of professional tradesmen around the world. Irwin Tools looks forward to continuing the celebration of professional tradesmen on National Tradesmen Day, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.”

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