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Trucker will test skills at driving competition

August 16, 1999

Bryon SmithBy GREG SIMMONS / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Back problems, sleepless nights and no respect on the road are a few of the hardships truckers endure.

But Bryon Smith knows trucking also offers rewards, and occasionally, an award.

He'll have his shot at an award this week when he represents the freight company Roadway Express at the American Trucking Associations' National Truck Driving Championships in Tampa, Fla.

"I feel that there's such a bad rap against the trucking industry," said Smith, 44, of Greencastle, Pa., who will compete in Tampa against 387 drivers from all 50 states.

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Smith was Maryland Sleeper Champion this year and in 1997. A sleeper is an 18-wheel truck with a sleep-in cab.

Smith said there are four main parts to the competition: a pre-travel safety inspection of the truck, a written exam, a driving test and an interview.

"I don't really consider the driving part hard because we do it every day. Even in real life you have good days and you have bad days," he said.

"Out there (at the competition) I don't have traffic to worry about," he said.

Smith said he gets nervous about the interview because some of the regulators he sees on the road conduct the interviews. He said the officers will ask him about his attitude while driving and safety issues behind the wheel.

The top inspectors in the nation will be in Tampa along with the truckers. The North American Inspectors Championship will bring in 56 of the top trucking inspectors from the United States and its territories, Canada and Mexico.

Every year since 1937, truckers from around the nation have gathered at the ATA's competition to determine the best all-around trucker in the country. It is even more important to participate now because of a fading American interest in the industry, Smith said.

Vu Nguen, the director of marketing and member relations for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said the competition promotes "a better relation between the enforcement community and the truck drivers themselves." The alliance is a private liaison between the trucking industry and public regulators.

"They do learn about how the other shoe fits," Nguen said. "Often truck drivers feel (inspectors) are out to get them, but safety is their No. 1 concern"

At this competition the ATA, a national lobby that represents state trucking associations, uses the trucker interviews to get driver feedback about trucking issues, Smith said.

Smith has been reading his Department of Transportation driving safety manual, the source on which the truckers will be quizzed.

"I guess it's a fever," Smith said. "(The competition is) kind of a nice thing - and then it's back to work."

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