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One Point Separates Top Two

By on November 1, 2018

Driving Skills Thoroughly Tested at Charlotte Finale

The 2018 TA Truck Service Challenge lived up to the challenge portion of its name as the professional truck drivers who haul NASCAR race cars for a living concluded their 2018 quest to be the best. The September 13 event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the September 27 event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway wrapped up the six-event, driver-only championship competition.

Here’s a quick recap of the six events, the winners, teams, and their winning point totals:

One-Point-Separates-Top-Two-1

Competition Recap

Each event was staged on a Thursday afternoon-early evening as the NASCAR team hauler drivers arrived at that week’s venue. DOT regulations administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provided the basis for a challenging written test at each event shortly after the drivers signed in. Indicating the tightness of the competition and the motivation to win, some competitors figured out the points lost on wrong answers could be avoided, if the DOT manual was studied regularly throughout the course of the competition. 

The scoring is based on each competitor starting each event with 1,200 points, the maximum possible if no questions are missed on the DOT test and no points are lost on the skills course. As it should be, the driving skills portion of the competition separated the contenders from the pretenders. For every cone hit or knocked over, for every tennis ball or golf ball dislodged, for every boundary line missed, every end gate missed or knocked over, every unauthorized pullup taken, drivers had five points deducted from their scores.

The overall event setup and Challenge administration are handled by Kathy Virtue and her team from Marketing 500 headquartered in Charlotte. Based on the number of cones knocked over by every competitor and the points deducted, the course set up for the Charlotte finale proved to be the most difficult of the six events. The winning total of 1,165 was lower than the winning total for any other event by 20 points. At each event, the competitors were vying for a $1,000 cash prize. The big money of $25,000, $10,000 and $5,000 was paid for first, second and third in the season standings. The five best scores from the six events were counted in each driver’s total. One was thrown out, in case a driver had a bad day, had to miss an event for personal reasons, or was not assigned to hauler driving on one of the event weekends.

The Charlotte driving skills were based on eight stations and a sea of cones that established the outer most boundaries. In sequential order, the stations for the Charlotte skills testing were laid out as follows:

  1. A short, relatively simple S-curve
  2. Parallel parking within cones on the right and
    a line on the left with one pullup
  3. Tennis-ball pull through within 3″ on each side
  4. A medium-length, multiturn S-curve
  5. A simulated roundabout 
  6. A long, multiturn S-curve
  7. A 12″ front bumper pullup
  8. A blindside back-in with one pullup within
    12″ of the trailer’s ICC bars

A test driver helps with course layout and fine tuning adjustments before spray paint marks cone positions for fast, easy replacement.

The Results & Championship

By taking the top spot in Las Vegas, Brendan “Slim” Greene, previously covered in the May-June RoadKing for his Atlanta win, became the only 2018 repeat event winner. He shares driving duties with Jamie Price, who won the Sonoma event, for the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 car driven by Kyle Busch. The Charlotte event and $1,000 was won by Michael “Cowboy” Hutton who drives the #51 NASCAR Xfinity Series hauler for Jeremy Clements Racing. It was great to see the support he received from his race team after a thunderstorm cut an Xfinity practice session short.

“Thanks to TA-Petro, Freightliner and Goodyear for sponsoring this competition,” said Michael. “I’ve only been driving a NASCAR hauler for three years, and this is my first year in the Challenge competition. The hauler drivers love having our own unique knowledge and skills events. They give us an opportunity to show that we can drive a big rig with the best of them. I’m dedicating this win to my father. As a kid, I rode with him hauling cattle during summer vacations, and I cut my trucking teeth doing the same. Unfortunately, he could not be here today because he’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, but it was great having Jeremy Clements and several team members come over to support me after the storm passed by.”

As for the big TA Truck Service Challenge money, it actually didn’t come down to the final day. The top-three recorded their worst scores of the competition and had them thrown out. The primary suspense revolved around which Joe Gibbs hauler drivers would finish in the top three and in what order. The final results looked like this:

One-Point-Separates-Top-Two-2

 

 

 

 

For Thumper, it was his fourth championship in these events for NASCAR hauler drivers during a career stretching back 31 years. Although he never won a 2018 event, he was Mr. Consistent, much like Matt Kenseth, the former #20 JGR driver, who won the 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Thumper also finished in the money during several other years, while supplementing his income with some impressive career winnings. He could empathize with Slim Greene who took the 2018 Challenge very seriously, but came up a bit short. He expects Slim will bounce back next year and be a championship contender for many years to come.

“This Challenge event is a perfect fit for TA-Petro,” said McCrimmon. “It honors all of the 3.5 million professional drivers who are the heart and soul of our nation’s transportation system. Without truck drivers, NASCAR can’t race every weekend. Without the dedicated customer service teams at TA-Petro locations, we can’t do our jobs. They’re our safety nets during the tight schedules we run. We rely on TA-Petro for fuel, tires, other truck service, showers, meals and convenience items when we’re on the road, crossing the country.

“These competitions are not decided by speed, though times are used as point tiebreakers. Rather, it’s all about angles of attack, executing the proper setup heading into each skills challenge, and precision driving as we navigate the tightly defined layouts. Marketing 500 does a great job setting up the courses and throwing different challenges at us during each event. We’re all striving to be the best we can be, and this competition makes us better drivers.”

About Warren Eulgen

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