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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The worst of Steven Hyden: The 1999 Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championship

It ain't easy getting into newspapers. The competition for good jobs is fierce, the hours are long, the "Atta boys!" are in short supply. But the hardest part of getting into newspapers are the stories you get stuck doing as an intern.

By definition, interns do the stories nobody else wants to do. So instead of giving young journalists a fun experience that gets them hooked early, a newspaper is run more like a boot camp where the trainees pray something better will come along eventually. (Instead of writing the Strawbery Fest story, I will assign the Strawberry Fest story!)

Whenever people ask me, "Steve, what's the lameest thing you ever had to cover as an intern?" I say either the 2000 state championship for the National Micro Mini Tractor Pullers Association or the 1999 Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championship.

You might think the latter might be something cool like a race or a "Mad Max" style game of chicken. But the 1999 Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championship consisted of about 100 trucks moving through an "obstacle" course one at a time and attempting to pull up or back into a series of dotted yellow lines without crossing them. It was six hours of "BEEP, BEEP, BEEP." Yep, that's pulse-pounding excitement.

More strangely, there were about 50 people watching this thing, sitting in lawn chairs and sipping beer. "That's right Earl, you show that dotted yellow line who's boss."

My fondest memory of covering this story was hanging out with Carl Riemer, two-time truck-driving champ. Carl agreed to talk to me before his run through the course, and he allowed a photographer to shoot him while driving. He ended up regretting it. Apparently having a shooter snapping pics in his lap made him nervous, and he ended up placing 63rd (or something like that). Sorry about that, Carl.

Here's the story, which ran in The P-C on June 27, 1999:

Carl Riemer of Green Bay readied to hop aboard his rig at the Wisconsin State Truck Driving Championships on Saturday, he exuded the cool confidence of someone who has done this many times before.

Riemer has competed at the championships, held at Fox Valley Technical College, every year since 1993. In that time, he's won the state competition twice and gone to nationals.

"In the beginning, you're excited," he said. "As years go on, you get more relaxed. "When you're driving, you're just thinking 'Score,' and getting yourself set up for the next problem."

Riemer was one of 112 contestants at the competition, which has been held at Fox Valley Tech for the past 10 years, said championship chairman Ed Schoning. "They're very accommodating," Schoning said. "All the tools you need are available. It takes a lot of work and effort."

The trucking championships have been around since the early 1960s. The scoring system rewards precision driving and common knowledge of trucking. Schoning said the event was started to promote safety among truckers. All competitors have to be accident-free at least 12 months prior to the competition, which consists of three parts for eight different classes of trucks.

If anybody is still reading this, feel free to bail. I won't be offended. This story is boooring. Still here? OK, you asked for it.

The first part is a 40-question written test the contestants took on Friday after they registered. The test includes questions on the trucking industry, safe driving rules, first aid, and fire fighting. The second part is a pre-trip inspection the drivers undergo before they drive. The third part is the course. Drivers are allowed 10 minutes to make it around six problems laid out on the track.

As they twist and turn their behemoths around the course, they have to either pull up or back up to a striped line at each problem.

In order to get the full 50 points for each problem, they must stop their truck a mere six inches from the line. Every three inches off knocks off five points. While the drivers took a walk through the course Friday night, they are not allowed to watch as others go through while their class is competing. Navigating your way through the course successfully with a large rig is no easy task, Schoning said.

"It's not like a car where you can just look out the window," he said. "If you know what you're doing and you take your time, you can do it."

Dale Rouse of Bonduel waited for his chance to show that he could do it as he watched the Three Axle Van class compete. "It's difficult," he said of the course. "It's designed by truck drivers who know what a truck can do and not do. "This tests things that you use every day without realizing it."

Rouse said the emphasis on safety is good for the image of truckers. "We have a bad reputation out there," he said. "Most drivers are good but there's some people who shouldn't be on the road. This shows the public we try to it safety."

As Riemer made his way to the end of the course, he pulled over a bit to far at the final stop.

Climbing out of this truck, his good natured smile couldn't totally conceal his disappointment. "I should have done better," he said. "When you get into the competition, you beat yourself up for not doing better." Still, Riemer knows he's been here before and will probably be again.

"Some days you're on, some days you're off," he said. "It was fun. You have to be open-minded and know you did your best."

Words to live by, Carl. Words to live by.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

50 spectators, 100 participants not allowed to watch. weird

11:37 AM  
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