When the dust settled, Nick Blayney had punched his ticket for the Dot Foods National Forklift Rodeo competition in Illinois. And he will be taking three first­-time qualifiers with him.

Blayney, Jordan Stowers, Elliot Thompson and Kyle Rhyne finished first in their respective regional competi­tions Wednesday afternoon at the Ardmore distribution center to advance to the next level of competition. The center is one of eight sending its best to claim top honors in two weeks. Locally, more then 40 men and women competed for the right to represent Ardmore.

"This is a celebration of professionalism," said Rob Hendry, warehouse manager. "What they do requires precision, and it's important to for us to never lose focus on what they do. When you join Dot Foods, it is a career and it requires professionalism." Blayne y qualified for the national rodeo in the forklift jack competition. He is a two-time national champion, and this will be his fifth trip to the national headquarters in Mt. Sterling, Ill. Among the prizes up for grabs at the national level are a choice of vacations that vary from cruises to exotic resorts.

"It gets intense, but this year, I was more relaxed," Blayney said. "Because I have done it so many times, it helped.

"I wasn't going to do it this year and was going to use my vacation time to get married. I got talked into it, and if I win it, I will use it for a short honeymoon," he said.

Other categories included stock picker, forklift and narrow aisle. Contestants were timed driving through an obstacle course. Adding to the difficulty rating was a barrel they were charged with carrying through the course with a basketball on top of it. If the basketball fell off the barrel, they had to stop until the basketball was replaced, losing precious seconds. And in some cases, those seconds meant the difference in a trip to Illinois.

"This will be the first time I have gone to Illinois," Rhyne said. "Last year was my first year, and I finished fourth. I have been here for four months, and I wanted to go to Illinois. Now, I will see if I can go and win it all." Rhyne said the key this year was putting more thought into the competition and planning out what he wanted to do.

For Stowers, the plan was simple: Win something that could be shared with his girlfriend. Each of the winners received a gift card in addition to the trip to Illinois.

"It feels pretty good," he said. "I was trying to win something for me and my girlfriend, and got a $75 gift certificate. She will get a little over half." Stowers said he was nervous heading into his second attempt for a trip Illinois, and credited an even-keel approach.

"I just went with it," he said. "This year, I was just more relaxed. I didn't get too worked up." The forklift rodeo is one of a number of events highlighting Dot Foods' appreciation for its warehouse personnel this week. Other activities included a trip to Six Flags golf tournament.

"This is on the heels of warehouse appreciation week," Hendry said. "This whole week we are celebrating their efforts. We want them to know how much we appreciate them."