Geissman Wins First International Truck Challenge

Gary Geissman outmatched his boss at the NASCAR Winston Cup Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., June 23-24.

Geissman, who hauls John Andretti’s No. 43 car for Petty Enterprises, won the first International Truck Challenge of the season the day before the Winston Cup race, driving a big rig through an obstacle course in a time of 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Andretti, on the other hand, finished 30th in the Winston Cup main feature.

Sponsored by International Truck and Engine, the truck challenge is a series of three
competitions scheduled for the remainder of the NASCAR season. The next two will be at Winston Cup races in Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. Transport drivers guide a 2001 International 9400i tractor and 53-foot trailer through sharp turns, docking maneuvers and narrow straightaways before crossing the finish line. The winner of each event receives $1,000, with a grand prize of $25,000 going to the truck driver accumulating the most points over the three events.

Geissman’s winning strategy: “I just turned the stereo up loud and took off.” Geissman also said he thought his starting position – he was the 20th contestant to run the course – helped his cause. “The first 10 guys were at a disadvantage,” he said. “The people who drove after that had a chance to watch how they ran the course and see where the trouble spots were.”

Hailing from Liberty, N.C., by way of Lodi, Ohio, Geissman has been driving trucks for 23 years, the last eight hauling for NASCAR. “I’d like to do this every weekend,” he said.

Veteran truck driver Rodney Pickler, who hauls the Penske Racing team’s No. 12 car driven by Jeremy Mayfield, finished third in the competition with a time of 3 minutes, 3 seconds. Pickler, a 40-year trucker, began hauling for NASCAR in 1978. He said the competition “was lots of fun, lots of fun.

“The thing I liked about this event was that they let us look at the course before driving it,” Pickler added. As for his seniority on the racing circuit: “I’m an old man and it gives me a lot of pleasure knowing I can beat some of these young guys.”

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Drivers were given instructions on running the course by former racer Bill Hennecy of Thunder Sports, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Hennecy organized the competition and set the course near the course’s final hairpin turn. “These are the best drivers in the world,” he said. “The biggest delight for me is being able to participate in a competitive event like this.”

The Winston Cup race? It was won by Tony Stewart, driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s Home Depot No. 20 car. Dan Heidtke, who hauls Stewart’s car, made a good showing in the truck challenge and said the competition was fun. “It gives us something to do. It gives us some bragging rights.”

International has committed to sponsoring the challenge at least one more year.