All-round champion

| October 05, 2005

Yellow Transportation driver Rick Herbert, shown with his wife Sandy, claims the 2005 National Truck Driving Grand Champion title.

Rick Herbert entered the National Truck Driving Championships because he wanted to challenge himself.

“When I backed up to a dock, a lot of our customers used to tell me how good I was at it,” says Herbert, who’s been with Yellow Transportation 17 years. “So I thought, ‘Let’s see how good I am.’”

Here’s how good: At the American Trucking Associations’ National Truck Driving Championships Aug. 20 in Tampa, Fla., Herbert brought home the gold that says he’s the best truck driver in the country, although he’ll be the first to dispute that. “I’m not the best driver out there,” he says. “Today was just my day.”

The victory was no gift.

Herbert, 52 and a resident of Villa Park, Ill., has 30 years of overall experience and drives a Volvo daycab with a 40-foot trailer around Chicago’s western suburbs, and he’s no stranger to tricky driving situations.

“I’m home every night, but I make 15 to 20 stops a day,” he says, adding that the biggest problems with driving in the city are “the cabs and the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) buses.” Still, he earned the championship by practicing and with the support of his family: wife Sandy, daughter Kristy and son Greg.

“I’m so proud of him,” Sandy says. “It’s very exciting. He’s worked very hard for this, and he deserves it.”

“I’ve been with him at a lot of truck rodeos,” says Kristy, a sophomore education student at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill. She was able to help her father prepare for the written examination that all championship contestants must take. “I’ve helped him study, corrected his tests and helped him go through the book,” she says.

“All the questions come right out of the book,” Herbert says. “It’s a lot to memorize. I’ve been reading it 10 years, and I still missed four questions.”

Greg, who will study engineering in college, was assigned spotting duty. “Before the state championships I’d go down and help him and the other drivers practice,” he says.

With local, state and national championships, skills tests, written exams, pre-trip inspections and personal interviews, there are lots of opportunities for contestants to be eliminated, and everything has to go right for the winners.

It was the timed, graded pre-trip inspection area that got Herbert most. “I only got 30 of a possible 60 points,” he says. “I didn’t run out of time. But I was inspecting equipment I wasn’t familiar with, and I was pushing myself, so I missed stuff.” He also struggled with the rear stop, which requires placing the right rear trailer tandems “in the scoring zone,” and the right turn, in which the rear tandems must come within inches of but not touch a corner marker, in this case, a rubber chicken. “I just rubbed the chicken,” Herbert says.

But he knew his game was on. “As I was going through it I felt I was doing very well.” He missed only four of 40 questions on the exam and scored a whopping 58 of 60 on the personal interview. “When I left the room, I was crowing like a rooster,” he says.

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