Big money

| February 01, 2007

An audition video showcasing trucker Matthew Sollena’s fun-loving personality helped land him a spot on Deal or No Deal.

“Take the money!” the audience yelled. “Take the money!” his wife pleaded. “No deal!” his children screamed.

But in the end, trucker Matthew Sollena made his own decision and won $675,000 on the NBC show Deal or No Deal, the American spin on a game show that airs in different versions in countries all over the world.

Most 46-year-old truckers from Staten Island, N.Y., never dream of hitting it that big – unless, of course, they are Matthew Sollena.

“I knew I would be on the show,” Sollena says. “I wasn’t surprised at all. All the people they have on there are boring, and I knew they wanted some personality.”

Sollena downloaded an application from the NBC website and made a five-minute video to audition for the show.

“I did impressions on the video I made, even though they all sound the same,” Sollena says, doing a less-than-dead-on imitation of James Cagney. “Then I said into the camera, ‘Go get Scott St. John and tell him you gotta see Mattie.’”

Scott St. John is the executive producer of Deal or No Deal. After calling him out personally, Sollena figured he had a pretty good chance of getting on the game show.

“I told them that if I won a million dollars, I would take my whole family to Italy and buy some cannolis,” Sollena says. “Then I would buy a yellow Corvette.

“I would buy my mother-in-law a house in China. She doesn’t want to live there, but I want her to.”

The gimmicks and gregarious personality worked, and within months, Sollena was standing on the stage next to Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel. His wife and 16-year-old twin daughters stood anxiously onstage, and his three sons sat in the audience.

His son Michael, 20, wasn’t too nervous about his father’s television debut.

“It seemed pretty normal, like he was a TV star already,” Michael says. “He’s a pretty funny guy. Now I feel like my dad is a superstar.”

The Deal or No Deal audience rooted for Sollena every time he had to make the now-famous decision: take the money or try for more. The “bank,” an all-powerful man upstairs shown only in silhouette, calls Mandel and offers the contestant large sums of money if he will do one thing: take it and end his turn on Deal or No Deal. When the bank offered Sollena $675,000, his wife was beside herself.

“I was overwhelmed with joy, but I was mad at my wife,” Sollena says. “She was screaming, ‘Take the money!’ and after I took it, we found out that my case had $3 million in it. She was about to have a nervous breakdown.”

Sollena’s daughter Alexandra, 16, also wanted her mom to relax a little.

“I was thinking ‘no deal’ the whole time,” Alexandra says. “I wanted my mom to be quiet, and I tried to scream over her, ‘No deal!’ It was intense.”

Sollena decided to take the deal.

“It was a lot of money for me,” Sollena says.

But what has changed about Sollena’s life since he won big on Deal or No Deal?

“I’m just a little more popular,” Sollena says. “All the big-money guys who never said hello to me now all pat me on the back and say hello. It’s nice; I’m kinda liking it.”

Sollena is still a member of the Teamsters union and drives for Superior Ink. He plans to keep trucking for seven more years, then retire. But a long, hard-earned vacation is in the works for the Sollena family, perhaps somewhere near a cannoli bakery in Italy.

For more information about Deal or No Deal, or to apply to be on the show, log on to the NBC website.
–Rachel Telehany


Carbon-Free Hauling
A truck driver concerned about the environment can now pay back Mother Earth for his truck’s pollution.

FactorLoads, a company that provides a factoring program for drivers, has teamed up with Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, Md., that seeks to help people reduce their carbon “footprint” and embrace environment-friendly ways to do business.

Excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, or CO2, in the air cause global warming and local climate change. Environmental scientists predict that any rapid climate change will have detrimental effects on Earth, including accelerated glacial melting, more severe storms and hotter warm seasons.

Carbonfund.org helps people reduce the amount of energy they use by educating them on their own emissions. For what emissions can’t be eliminated they encourage partners to become what Partnerships Director Craig Coulter calls “carbon neutral” by donating money to projects that reduce carbon emissions or add oxygen to the atmosphere.

“We make it simple and inexpensive,” Coulter says. “A small input can make a large impact, and people don’t realize how small. Donating $55 a year to carbon offset projects, or $4.58 a month, can make one person carbon neutral.”

The organization funds tree planting, renewable energy and efficiency research, or a combination of projects. Carbon offset participants choose which projects their money helps.

Anthony Aliengena, president of FactorLoads, developed the Moving Freight CarbonFree program to give truckers and small companies the opportunity to offset their carbon output.

Truckers can give a tax-deductible donation of less than a penny per mile to the program, which FactorLoads then forwards to Carbonfund.org. Companies that participate in the program receive a decal to put on their trucks to promote the program, Coulter says.

“This is an opportunity for the entire industry to stand out from the crowd and to impact the environment,” Coulter says. “Shippers as well as haulers can get together and do something good about this.”

The first fleet to sign on was Fire Bolt Trucking, a 25-truck operation in Beebe, Ark.

“This is a strong differentiator for us,” says Fire Bolt President Chase Truesdail. “My customers are concerned about global warming, so knowing that they are moving their freight in trucks that are offsetting carbon is a great message they can pass along to their customers and the public.”

Companies and truck drivers not affiliated with FactorLoads are encouraged to visit Carbonfund.org and participate in protecting the environment.

Follow the Links
Carbonfund.org, www.carbonfund.org
FactorLoads and the Moving Freight CarbonFree program, www.factorloads.com
Information about global warming, www.epa.gov/globalwarming


Wired for Success
When his mother wanted to throw away a broken Star Wars toy, then-4-year-old Jon Newby took the spaceship apart, repaired the mechanism that made the wings move and put it back together. Randy Hughes rebuilt his first heavy-duty engine – a Cummins 335 – when he was 16. Jason Swann bought a worn-out pickup when he was 14 and enjoyed fixing it so much he spent the next several years working on other people’s vehicles.

And now, if your truck has a problem that needs troubleshooting and repair, you’d be lucky to have one of them at the helm.

All three had a chance to demonstrate the talents they’ve honed since childhood during the first annual Rush Truck Centers’ Technician Skills Rodeo, held in Nashville, Tenn., in early December. Of 350 Rush technicians who took a written test, 45 qualified for the two-day, hands-on competition. Eight, including Hughes, Newby and Swann, made it to the final round.

Contestants spent as much time looking at computer screens as they did inspecting the three new Peterbilts that had been “bugged” for the event. Their knowledge of software programs often played a larger role in locating the source of a problem than their familiarity with the truck itself.

“Finally the technicians are getting recognition,” says Bill Bilbo, general manager of Rush’s Nashville dealership. “For a long time people haven’t appreciated what it takes to be a technician. It’s not a blacksmith environment anymore. This is the future.”

In the final round contestants had to know Peterbilt’s program for diagnostics, says Hughes, who placed second all around and in two preliminary divisions. The trucks’ gauges were malfunctioning, but the problem was in the data link, which carries messages from multiple computer systems on the truck.

If technicians followed the steps laid out in the computer program, discovering the bug was easy, says Ken Carter, service manager at the Oklahoma City Rush Truck Center. But if they tried to tackle the problem mechanically, they were lost.

Today’s successful truck technicians have to understand how mechanical and electrical systems are integrated, Hughes says. “You have to read one to understand the other.”

The first phase of the skills rodeo consisted of three divisions – Caterpillar, Cummins and Eaton – with 15 technicians competing in each.

Caterpillar engineers developed six bugs for that company’s test, but the most any technician found was three. “We made it tough,” says Darrel Phelps, a Caterpillar judge. Contestants also received points for doing a general inspection and knowing how to use Caterpillar’s online service information and diagnostic tools.

During the Eaton test, contestants had to use a computer program to diagnose a common failure and then update the transmission’s software. Contestant Pat Wall says he found the failure but didn’t have time to update the software. All the tests had a 45-minute time limit. “I learned that I need to be quicker,” he says.

One major flaw and several minor ones, including a bad sensor and an electrical short, made up the Cummins test.

Contestants with the top three scores in each division won cash prizes of $2,500 to $5,000 and participated in the final. Swann won that competition and an additional $5,000. The 25-year-old from Rush’s Dallas dealership is modest about his accomplishment. “I didn’t know I had a talent,” he says. “There were plenty of guys there as good as me.”

Bilbo says Rush held the skills rodeo to reward technicians for the important role they play in the business. “Any good salesman can sell one truck to a customer,” he says. “The second truck is sold by the technician.”
–Olivia Grider


Furry Tour Guide
His adventure began as a fun way to teach geography to sixth-graders, but after 10 years and 100,000 miles, a little bulldog named AMS has become a legend in Trucker Buddy history.

AMS, the doggy mascot of Antigo Middle School in Antigo, Wis., is more than just a stuffed toy for teacher Connie Miller and her sixth-grade class. Apart from this day job, AMS is a globetrotter, a hobby that began a decade ago when Miller decided to become a part of the Trucker Buddy Program.

Trucker Buddy pairs truck drivers with elementary and middle-school teachers to teach kids about U.S. geography. Miller, who is blind, and driver Thurley Riley began their Trucker Buddy relationship with the usual correspondence: postcards, letters and packages of small gifts delivered from the road to the classroom.

Riley also visited to give the kids a tour of her rig, and at the school she found one buddy who wanted to go for a ride – and not just a temporary one.

Riley began traveling with AMS, taking pictures of the dog at U.S. monuments, mountains, lakes and oceans to send back to the sixth-graders. She and Miller even entered him in a Trucker Buddy dog contest, in which he won Best Dressed.

After Riley retired from trucking to become a hermit – a nun who chooses to live alone instead of in a community – she stayed involved with Miller’s classroom each year. Riley now lives in a hermitage in Huntsville, Texas, but still organizes AMS’ adventures. Travelers on planes, trains and trucks pick up AMS and drop him off, helping him log miles and photos for Miller’s classroom album.

The dog’s most recent trip took him to the Iditarod in Alaska, an exhausting sled dog race spanning 1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome and usually reserved for large huskies and their masters. Miller and Riley accompanied AMS to Alaska, where he rode the first 11 miles of the race with Iditarod musher Rote Cortte.

Miller’s been able to experience the world in a different way since she met Riley and joined the Trucker Buddy program. “Trucker Buddy came and knocked down the four walls of my classroom and said, ‘Let’s go!’” she says. “It has given me the opportunity to expand outside my classroom and take my kids with me.”

Miller’s new Trucker Buddy, Lund driver Michael Krejci out of Antigo, recently made a class visit to pick up AMS and take him to New Jersey.

“It’s been quite fun,” Krejci says. “At first it felt a little funny. But after I got the chance to look through the information that he carries with him, I realized that it’s a great way to get kids involved.”
–Rachel Telehany

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