Koch & Sons driver’s adventure at Minn. driving championships
Driver John Borman and I haven’t met in person, but via the monthly photo contests I help host for Truckers News and, before that, our monthly featured photo from the magazine’s Flickr.com photo-sharing group, I’ve become well-acquainted with Borman as not only a great photographer but a consummate professional. When he asked if I’d be interested in including his narrative of his recent participation in the Minnesota state driving championships, I didn’t hesitate. Find it below. The National championships are ongoing as we speak, wrapping up this weekend, in Florida. Keep an eye on this page for posted results next week.
About a year ago I made an off-the-cuff comment that I would like to be in our State Truck Driving Championship at least once before I retire. Someone remembered that comment and told our Safety Director. He, in turn, called and asked me if I would like to be in the 2011 Minnesota Truck Driving Championship. Well, I thought if my Safety Director was calling me I really couldn’t say no. Little did I know at that time how it would all turn out.
I drive for Stan Koch & Sons Trucking in Minneapolis. We hosted the championship this year. They cleared out one of our parking lots for the weekend, brought in all the trucks and trailers needed, set up the course, and held the competition. All in all, it was a great weekend, but I went into the championship with absolutely no expectations.
In the championship itself, drivers compete in one of nine categories: Step Van, Straight Truck, Three-Axle, Four-Axle, Five-Axle, Flatbed, Tanker, Twins, or Sleeper Berth. Those drivers competing for the first time are called “Rookies” and compete for Rookie of the Year. The competition in Minnesota is a two-day affair. On Saturday all the drivers do a written test, a pretrip test, and a driving test (pictured: John Bumgardner of USF Holland on the driving course scores 50 points as judges watch). The top three scoring drivers in each category compete in another driving test on Sunday. The winners are then decided by combining all four scores. There were 105 drivers entered in the nine categories. I competed in the Sleeper Berth category against 21 other drivers. And, I was one of 23 “rookies” competing for Rookie Of The Year.
Our Safety Director had scheduled three practice sessions for the seven Koch drivers entered leading into the championship weekend. This meant going down to work on a Saturday morning on my own time. We got an overview of what to expect on the championship weekend. But, more importantly, we got to practice. With the help of our shop, we had a truck bugged with a number of “defects” for Pretrip technique workout. We had a couple of driving courses with different maneuvers. And we also got to do a practice written test.
On championship weekend, Saturday was a very long day. It started at 6 a.m. with roll call, the National Anthem, and opening remarks and instructions. Then all the drivers took their written test. We were split up then, half of us doing the Pretrip Test with the other half on the Driving Test before lunch. After lunch we switched off. During all this time the drivers are “quarantined” when not testing until all tests are complete, so they cannot watch other drivers doing the Pretrip or Driving tests. And we would not get our Pretrip or Written Test scores until Sunday.
After completing all three tests I finally got to go sit with my wife. She had been patiently watching the competition with others. She told me I scored 180 points out of a possible 300 on the Driving Test. I was just happy I scored over 100. I figured that score probably put me somewhere in the middle of all the drivers in the Sleeper Berth Category. Saturday finally ended about 4 o’clock, and we all went back to the hotel and had a nice dinner.
Sunday morning we got to sleep in for another hour. Roll call was at 7 a.m. After introductory remarks and the National Anthem came the moment we were all waiting for. They announced the top three drivers in each class. These drivers would be would be driving again today. They also announced the top three Rookies candidates for Rookie of the Year. You can imagine my total surprise when they called my name, likewise as one of the top three in the Sleeper Berth category. I never in my wildest dreams expected that. This meant I had to compete in another driving test today. And I also had to do a personal interview with two of the judges for the Rookie of the Year. The interview was a piece of cake. The driving test, however, wasn’t. They made the course more difficult than it was on Saturday. This time I only scored 50 points. Another Koch driver that made the top three in the Sleeper Berth category scored 80, and the third driver scored 25.
During the banquet and awards ceremony started, we “Rookies” were brought up to the front and introduced. And to my surprise they called my name as winner of the Rookie of the Year award. It had been strange being called a Rookie all weekend, as I’ve been driving for more than 20 years.
Then they started announcing the winners in each category. When they came to the Sleeper Berth category the first name they announced was for Third, which went to the driver for Transport America. That meant it was down to the other Koch driver and myself. The neat thing was that either way it went, a driver from Koch Trucking was going to Nationals. I thought that was just cool.
Then they announced my name for Second. I reached over and shook Tony’s hand and congratulated him on winning First, then went up to receive my award.
Given my lack of expectations, I was very pleased with how well I did. And for Koch Trucking to win First and Second Place in the Sleeper Berth Class, and to win Rookie of the Year, just gave further weight to something I’ve known for a long time: Koch has the best drivers on the road today.