On the Road

In Praise of Higher Achievement

August 27, 2013

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Okay, so it's not the Oscars, and thank some higher power that it's not the MTV Music Video awards -- I don't think I could take see trucking's version of Miley Cyrus bumping and grinding her way through a few certain maneuvers -- but our National Truck Driving Championships are a great showcase for the talent this industry keeps so well hidden.

So, too, was it a display of the expertise American and Canadian Truck inspectors bring to their jobs. The North American Inspectors Championship took place at the same time as the driving championships. The truck inspectors and the truck drivers were competing under the same roof, but in different parts of the building. A good thing, maybe.

This year, 422 drivers with a combined total of 605.6 million accident-free miles gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City to show their stuff. They compete in a driving skills competition as well as a written test. Unfortunately, events like that don't play to an MTV-type of audience like an Iron Man competition or a talent contest like "America's Got Talent." The kind of brow knitting and slipping of clutches required to win at a competition such as this one just doesn't make for riveting television. And that's too bad.

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Stopping at the line without going over isn't easy when you can't see the line.
Stopping at the line without going over isn't easy when you can't see the line.

(Confession alert: I still get goose bumps watching YouTube reruns of Susan Boyle and Paul Potts in their now-famous auditions on Britain's Got Talent, and young Andrew De Leon on America's Got Talent. Apparently, I'm not alone in my fascination with remarkable displays of hidden talent. Between them, they share hundreds of millions of views.)

That we could somehow capture the moment when this year's Grand Champion, Gary Harms, of Walmart Transportation, dynamited his parking brakes upon completion of the driving skills test, we might have something. Then we'd need a caustic Simon Cowell wannabe to add a few remarks at the end.

Then again, maybe not.

The same goes for the truck inspectors. From a PR perspective, there's no ringing high-note to capture in what they do. They are tested on the rules and regulations and then spend some period of time scouring a big truck for a bunch of preset defects. That has even less crowd appeal than watching a driver alley-dock an 18-wheeler.

Maybe the organizers should add a talent competition to the event? Competitors could burst into song upon discovering the final hidden defect or when they ace the docking exercise?

All kidding aside, the men and women who make it to this level of competition have accomplished something. Knowing a little of what it takes to get around that obstacle course unscathed, I wish there was some way to expose that talent to a broader audience. The organizers of the competitions do a great job of getting the stories out to the mainstream media, and for weeks before and after the competition, newspapers do write about their local drivers' exploits and accomplishments. The stories often get a minute or two on the local news as well.

These folks deserve more, but how do you make it more compelling to a national audience? Sadly, if there were a 'competition' a la Mad Max where truckers earned points for every four-wheeler they took out on a cross country race where only the winner survives, I have no doubt it would have the highest ratings on TV. But that's hardly the image the industry is trying to foster and project with the truck driving and inspectors championships.

Alley-docking a 53-foot trailer without 'bumping' the dock takes skill and judgement -- and a little luck.
Alley-docking a 53-foot trailer without 'bumping' the dock takes skill and judgement -- and a little luck.

The folks in these competitions make it look easy. Like Susan Boyle and Paul Potts, they have a natural talent for what they do. I think with the Talent performers, the accomplishment is brought home whenever the viewer tries to follow along in song. Most of us, me especially, can't carry a tune in a bucket, so the comparison between average and genius is an easy one. Very few members of the public will ever know or get to experience how difficult precision reversing of a truck really is. I wish there was some way we get that point across.

The men and women who brought their talent and skill to Salt Lake City last week deserve all the recognition they get and then some. Here's a heartfelt congratulations to all of them, and a tip of the hat to the winners. I've been there and done that, but went home without the T-shirt.

Read about the winners here.

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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