Racing Beat

Throughout the 2004 race season, Pilot will host a series of challenges to reward the Nextel Cup transport driver who demonstrates a “safety first” attitude on and off the track.

Being a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series transporter driver is hardly a thankless job. Sure, the hours are as long as the miles, and during the course of a 36-race schedule, downtime is hard to come by.

Still, the men who pilot the big rigs that tote the cargo of motorsports superstars are celebrities in their own right – many even working with pit crews of the competitors they drive for. And there’s nothing wrong with getting some recognition for the hard work they put in on the road. Now, thanks to Pilot Travel Centers, they will – with some spendable recognition to go with it.

Pilot announced recently they would sponsor Truck Driver Challenge 2004, a new program designed to put the transport drivers in the spotlight. The mission statement of the organization is to promote awareness and emphasize safety among America’s 2.2 million professional truck drivers.

In selecting the champion, random checks will be done and points earned based on the following criteria:

  • All drivers must have CDL and Medical Examiners certificates and maintain these to DOT standards.
  • Drivers must produce an accurate log book upon request at any time.
  • Random checks will be conducted by professionals to insure that proper fire safety equipment for the truck and trailer are onboard, properly identified and certified to date.
  • Driver’s records will be checked to make sure their 2004 driving record is up to standard.
  • The driver shall provide beginning and ending mileage during the 2004 season, which must be logged without infractions. More points will be given to the driver with the most miles without infractions.
  • A competition among participants will be conducted at one designated location during the 2004 season whereby each participant will be judged on their ability to safely negotiate an inverted chicane course.
  • Random checks will be conducted to review maintenance records and tractor-trailer upkeep.
  • Each driver participating in the Pilot Travel Centers competition must promote truck safety at select events and are expected to make two-hour appearances at those events.

There is $100,000 in prize money on the line, which is why the competition is so rigorous. Throughout the season Pilot will incorporate contests to judge the aforementioned criteria, and commercial professional truck drivers have the opportunity to vote for their favorite driver and team on the Professional Truck Driving Challenge website.

In conjunction with the transport drivers, Pilot is holding an additional challenge for commercial professional truck drivers. They will be awarded points for the most Pilot driver payback points and a safe/flawless driving record.

The driver payback points will be tracked through Nov. 1, 2004. The transport driver champion and champion professional truck driver will each receive $50,000 and a trip to New York in December to be part of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards Banquet at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

“Pilot Travel Centers is privileged to sponsor this Truck Driver Challenge,” said Mark Hazelwood, executive vice president of Pilot Travel Centers. “As the economy has turned, and many manufacturing jobs continue to evaporate, folks should consider professional truck driving as an excellent career opportunity. The benefits, job security and pay are equal to, or above, most manufacturing jobs.”

Pilot has Truck Driver Challenge information displays set up at select sites this season for driver recruitment and career opportunity information, and the website will have results and overall competition standings, along with “spotlight” transport driver biographies posted each week throughout the competition.

Veteran crew chief Robbie Reiser, who headed up Matt Kenseth’s Nextel Cup title effort last year, was on hand for the inaugural press conference and said he expects the competition to showcase just how talented these men truly are.

“We’re counting on our transport drivers to do a perfect job each week,” he says. “They’re carrying racecars, engines and equipment that our team has poured their heart and soul into for months. There’s millions of dollars invested in the tools, parts and gear on board. I’m confident that once the transporter leaves the shop, it’s going to get to the track safely. I never doubt that.”

“This is going to be awesome,” says Rodney Pickler, transport driver for Rusty Wallace. “It’s already the buzz of the garage. The truck drivers are thrilled. This program is going to showcase what an important piece of the puzzle transport drivers are.

“All of the transport drivers in the garage are friends. We’re like a big family. We see each other every week. We work together, travel together and do what we can to help each other out.”

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