About this time last month, Tom Mayer and Frank Kranz weren't expecting to be in possession of a state championship trophy.
Now the two recent Fremd High School graduates have set their sites on an even bigger accomplishment: a national title.
Kranz and Mayer, both 17 year olds from Palatine, will represent Illinois as one of 50 two-person teams at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills national competition June 8-10 in Dearborn, Michigan.
"It's honestly hard to put into words," Mayer said.
Similar to the state competition, which took place May 9 in Lisle, participants are required to take a 100-question written exam then test their mechanical skills to fix an intentionally bugged 2014 Ford Fusion in 90 minutes. The team with the best combined score wins.
The teammates say they haven't strayed far from what won them a state championship while preparing for nationals over the past three weeks.
"Frank and I took apart everything we could on a Ford Fiesta just to see how the car reacted to a part being missing, damaged or unplugged, in order to simulate a bug that might be installed during the competition," Mayer said in an email. "So when the bug confronts us at the competition, we can fix it with speed and assurance. We're going through the entire routine again with the Fusion."
An essential factor in the team's success has been their ability to cooperate.
"You have to know the car completely, and you have to work with your partner well," said Kranz, who has been working on cars for most of his life. "Tom helps the process move along better, and he's an all-around great teammate to have."
Steve Elza, an automotive technology instructor at Fremd, has worked closely with the two competitors over their high school careers. He taught Kranz for four years and Mayer for three.
"They're still getting comfortable with the car," said Elza, who is traveling to Michigan with the participants. "I can give them guidance, but once the competition's going I have no control over what they do."
Elza said the national event is a perfect way for his students to show off their abilities in a competitive environment.
"We took second place last year, and one of our guys got a job out of it," he said. "They get a chance to prove themselves and to set themselves apart from everyone else."
Both Kranz and Mayer said it's possible that automotive technology could be a part of their careers down the road. But right now, they're focused on going into the national competition, meeting new people and bringing home some hardware.
"My goal is to fix every bug and earn Fremd a place on the podium," Mayer said. "I love the thrill of good competition."