2023 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
Steve Vinkemeier, our 2023 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year, has always been a problem-solver. Raised on his family’s dairy farm, Steve grew up milking cows and doing chores before and after school. He learned to respect people, animals, and daily life. He learned that if he wanted anything in life, he had to earn it. And he learned to diagnose and fix broken things, even if it meant making his own customized tools.
It's perhaps no surprise, then, that Steve has two passions – repairing cars, and helping people – and his track record reflects his clear success in both. He has built derby and Autocross vehicles, and helped friends at the local racetrack on Saturday nights. Since 1998, he has worked in auto repair, and his dedication to training has earned him distinguished recognition including the General Motors Mark of Excellence and ASE certification as a Master Technician. Since 2014, he has worked at Pro Auto Glencoe, where he’s known and admired not only for his uncanny ability to diagnose and fix even the most challenging problems, but also for keeping up on the latest technology and mentoring colleagues as well. And when he can’t find the right tool or part on the market, he goes back to his roots and just makes one.
A divorced single father, Steve is devoted to his three children and eagerly helps with their baseball, soccer, basketball, trap league, and other pursuits. His children have also led Steve to a host of rich volunteer gigs, including coaching a sixth-grade community baseball team, supporting children competing in the Glencoe Royalty community ambassador program, and helping behind the scenes at the local and state BMX track where his children race BMX bikes. He cherishes the opportunity to teach the children about sports and sportsmanship, and celebrate with them when their learnings pay off.
In addition, Steve is now one of three captains with the Plato Fire Department, where he has volunteered since 2013. It fulfills his desires to learn, including his recent training on electric vehicles and department leadership; to teach, which he has done as a fire school instructor at South Central College in Mankato, Minnesota; and to serve his community, from extinguishing fires to representing the department in parades and Kids’ Night Out events to teach children about fire safety. He recently also signed up to become certified as a Department of Transportation inspector.
At the foundation of all these contributions is Steve’s fundamental rule: respect. He believes that the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – is an underrated but essential way to live. He strives to help others, and to be a role model for his children in understanding that what goes around, comes around, so you should always send out positive vibes and contribute all you can to be there for others and, in big and small ways, help improve their lives.
2022 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
We are proud to announce Margarette ‘Meg’ Langdon-Lewis of BJ’s Automotive Diagnostic Center in Belfast, Maine, as the 2022 NAPA/ASE Technician of the Year. The Technician of the Year award honors an outstanding individual who has risen to the top of the profession in the NAPA Auto Care system. Meg joins an elite group of more than three dozen technicians who have received this award. We’re confident Meg will represent NAPA very well in the upcoming year.
Meg is a Master Certified Technician, lead tech at BJ’s Automotive Diagnostic Center, and future owner of the shop. During her years at BJ’s, Meg has also led the way in the organization and formation of the NAPA Auto Care Business Development Group (BDG) for Mid-Coast Maine, spearheaded an apprentice program at her shop, and serves on the NATEF Certification Board for the automotive repair program at Waldo County Technical School.
Meg knew early on she wanted to pursue a career in the automotive industry. She took advantage of a two-year automotive program at a technical high school, earning top grades that led to a college scholarship. Employment opportunities were limited in rural Maine where she lived. She also found being an entry level tech plus being a female in a male-dominated profession were two other hurdles to overcome. Meg found the right fit 14 years ago at BJ’s Automotive Diagnostic Center. The owner, Joel Knight, took her on as an apprentice tech. He has since encouraged Meg, provided training opportunities, and will work with her on transitioning the business when he retires.
Meg is an advocate for any training and certification opportunities for herself and her technicians. Meg and the techs at BJ’s take advantage of NAPA Autotech Training programs including Autotech in-person, virtual, and eLearning classes as well as a variety of manufacturers’ schools and clinics.
In preparation for becoming a future shop owner, Meg works closely with Joel to learn about the business. She has taken business finance seminars led by Cecil Bullard of the Institute for Automotive Business Excellence and Vin Waterhouse, of the Waterhouse Group, an automotive accounting, training, and coaching company. In addition to working in the shop and the office, Meg also has a hand in the shop’s Facebook page, creating and posting a weekly video called Tech Tip Tuesday that covers a variety of topics.
Meg believes in encouraging and mentoring automotive students. She is involved with the Waldo County Tech Center, an active member of the Mid-Coast School of Technology Alumni for the automotive program, and a member of the NATEF panel that takes part in the certification process. For the last six years, Meg has developed her own apprentice program at BJ’s. She has also had the opportunity to mentor several female students studying automotive repair in both secondary and post-secondary institutions. Meg is also involved in community outreach at her own shop, hosting Car Care Clinics for adults and young adults who have just received their driver’s license.
As one of the leading voices in the formation of the NAPA Auto Care Business Development Group (BDG) in mid-coast Maine, Meg is also committed to the success of other Auto Care shops in the area. The group was launched in 2016 and has grown to 13 Auto Care members since then. They meet once a quarter to discuss goals as well as community outreach. They are a big supporter of the University of Maine’s Autism Institute for Education and Research (MAIER) through the Autos for Autism fundraiser. For the third year, the BDG as well as local NAPA stores joined together to support the work of MAIER and help raise autism awareness and acceptance in their communities. During April’s Autos for Autism fundraiser, thanks to the Mid-Coast BDG, they raised over $3,600 in 2021.
2021 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
Lynn Austin joins an elite group of more than three dozen technicians who have received this award that was first presented in 1982. Lynn earned a degree in Automotive Service Technology at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. During the summers he worked as the oil change boy at a local shop. When Lynn graduated; he got a job as a technician at Crown Auto. Then it was on to the local Dodge dealership where Lynn was a technician and a service manager. Lynn earned his first ASE certification in 1975 and went on to become an ASE Master Certified Technician. He holds 15 ASE certifications today. Lynn is a big believer in training and has taken about every course NAPA has ever offered. When asked about the importance of certifications, he said “Customers understand the importance of having a well-trained technician work on their car, so seeing that ASE certification gives them peace of mind." Lynn views himself as always having been a technician first and a businessperson second, so he recently turned over the shop's business operation to his son-in-law Justin Yungerberg and he's now devoting his time to working on vehicles.
Lynn has always believed in doing what's right for the customer and strives to provide exceptional service every day. His motto is, “There's never a need to sell someone something they don't need. If there's an issue I call the customer to discuss it, often on my own cell phone. Open communication is key. It builds trust and strengthens relationships." In addition to training and experience, it's the little things that make Lynn stand out as a mechanic. One of the things he's known for is putting a smiley face on the coolant recover tank to remind his customers how full it needs to be. Especially today, oil changes are further apart, so by reminding people where to check for coolants until their next oil change, it provides reassurance for the customer—and for Lynn—that the car will be looked after until he sees it again.
Even though Lynn has more than 40 years' experience in the automotive industry, he remembers being the new guy on the block and is committed to helping grow the next generation of technicians. The local high school offers a beginning automotive program, and South Central College in North Mankato offers programs in automotive service, auto body and collision. Lynn volunteers his time at both schools, participating Mankato Area Career Day as well as Career Exploration Day at South Central College talking to students interested in the automotive field. Lynn is also a member of the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), an organization that works to enhance the quality of technician training programs nationwide.
Terre Haute, IN
2020 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
Byron’s passion for cars started as a kid helping his dad work on the family car in the driveway. Byron graduated from Lincoln Tech with honors in 1991 with a focus in auto body. Fresh out of vocational school, Byron began working at Finzel’s Mastertech. In 1996, Byron became a Master Technician and currently holds 14 ASE Certifications along with several NAPA and other industry training certificates. Byron took a break from the automotive industry from 2001 – 2015 but returned and re-certified as a Master Technician and once again joined Finzel’s. Byron currently acts as a mentor at Finzel’s Mastertech where he shares his experiences and knowledge with younger technicians looking to make a career in auto repair. He’s also committed to making sure customers feel comfortable with the recommended repairs and confident in the work done.
Byron also donates time to his community, volunteering as a motivational speaker for substance abuse and recovery. He volunteers his time to the Indiana Department of Corrections and various recovery programs. He has also participated in Finzel’s annual Car Care Event for the last 3 years and the annual motorcycle rides for St. Judes and The Blue Knights Ride for CODA (Council of Domestic Abuse).
Steve Finzel, owner of Finzel’s Mastertech said “Byron repairs vehicles with the highest integrity and uses the latest techniques and test equipment while diagnosing today’s vehicles. Byron welcomes the opportunity for training and shares his successes with other technicians through Identifix and IATN. Byron’s productive attitude and willingness to give back makes him an asset to the future of the automotive industry.”
McNeil’s Auto Care
Sandy & Riverton, Utah
2019 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
Jake Sorensen is the recipient of the 2019 NAPA/ASE Technician of the Year Award. Jake is an ASE Master Certified Technician, holding 14 ASE Certifications and 15 additional training qualifications. He serves as the Lead Technician at McNeil’s Auto Care in Sandy, UT.
Jake and Pete McNeil (owner of McNeil’s Auto Care) decided to embrace the idea of giving youth a path toward being a Technician. To educate that becoming a Technician is both gratifying and can be a rewarding career. They both feel the necessity for technicians is growing and with technology constantly changing, came the need for a new way of learning to adapt. So, they approached the local school districts, department of labor, Governor’s office and their NAPA Store.
Jake has volunteered his time, experience and expertise as an ASE Master Technician to build a "Technician Apprentice Program", which is approved and certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (D.O.L). He created the curriculum that includes the required hours and training (classroom, online & workshop) to be recognized by the D.O.L. Jake is an Instructor at CTEC Entrada/Canyons School District, where he teaches young men and women an introductory Automotive class. The class supports the beginning stages of their apprenticeship program and credits can be applied to the program if students decide to apply and are accepted after taking the course. Four out of the six apprentices that have been accepted into the program have become high performing technicians at McNeil’s Auto Care.
Jake’s greatest accomplishment is his wife Kelsy and two daughters. He is an avid hunter/outdoorsman, including boating, hiking, fishing. Loving the outdoors, Jake volunteers for a group, called Cast for Kids, that takes disadvantaged and disabled kids and families fishing. Jake said, “helping someone enjoy the nature in Utah, especially those that may not be able to without help, is a great feeling”. As you can see Jake Sorensen is very passionate about the overall success and future of our industry.
Dattco Sales & Service
New Britain, CT
2018 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
Ronnie King’s technical career began at his family’s Connecticut gas station. His local high school offered a good automotive shop program, and he continued his study in technical school. His first job gave him the opportunity to work on such a wide range of vehicles, he still thinks of himself as a problem-solver.
In 1995, he received his first ASE certifications and, a year later, his Master Truck Technician certification. Ronnie saw the value in this level of training and certification as the equivalent of professional licensing and he currently holds more than 20 ASE certifications, including IC bus Diamond Technician (Navistar), Cummins ISB overhaul and repair; and ASE Master Tech in bus, car and truck with L1 and L2.
Beyond training courses, Ronnie has raised the performance bar, winning numerous honors, including the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Award; and the ASE Technical Committee Subject Matter Expert Award for the School Bus Diesel Engines (S2) Exam.
Looking at his personal achievements as an example, Ronnie advises others to “never stop training.” Online, hands-on, in-person, self-taught, reading trade magazines and keeping up with the latest tools are all important to the future of your company and the industry.
Ronnie takes his work seriously but he finds time to round-out his life by participating in a variety of local charity organizations including Rebuilding Together – New Britain, which helps to transform the lives of low-income homeowners, the Berlin Lions Club, and charity motorcycle rides.
2017 NAPA / ASE Technician of the Year
Jim is New Mexico's ASE Tech of the Year six years in a row and a previous National Top Five Nominee. His motto is "Do it right, or don't do it at all" and that mentality is what keeps him one step ahead. Jim opened his current location in 1986 with a reputation built on integrity, honesty and fairness. Jim makes accommodations for on-site training and other shops are invited to attend. They also offer Internships to a local high school as Senior Work Projects. Jim's Automotive is an ASE Blue Star Facility, ACDC Hybrid Certified, AAA Approved Repair Facility and a member of the NAPA Albuquerque Business Development Group. Jim has been on the Board of Directors for ASA-Central New Mexico and currently serves as President of the Association and has been instrumental in the success of many community based activities. He spends a great deal of his own time supporting various fund raising events. Jim is very passionate about our industry and works extremely hard to improve it.
Being the Technician of the Year is not just about the ASE Certifications that an individual possesses, it's about commitment and leadership to our industry and to NAPA and continued training beyond ASE. It's about hard work and going the extra mile.
A panel of former NAPA/ASE Technicians of the Year, automotive press editors and an ASE representative will select this year's winner. Entrants will be judged on:
Anyone is welcome to nominate a Technician they feel is deserving. We are accepting multiple nominations per NAPA Distribution Center. To enter, click Nominate Now and complete all six tabs of the Nomination information. It will allow you to save throughout the process and return at a later time to input additional information. Once all fields are completed, the Submit button will turn Green and you can make your nomination.