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Big rig drivers compete, stress highway safety

August 14, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

The feeling Amanda Racine gets each time she climbs behind the wheel of a big rig is a mixture of intoxication and reverence, of great power and great responsibility.

"At first, I was so scared I couldn't see straight," Racine said. "It's a huge piece of machinery. It's 80,000 pounds. You are solely in control of it, but you can't control what other people do on the road. It's an awesome responsibility. But it's a great feeling knowing that I can maintain that big, bulky vehicle. I can make it dance like a ballerina."

Racine, a driver for D.M. Bowman's terminal in York, Pa., is among the company's best of the best.

After competing in their local terminal competitions, 20 of Bowman's most exacting drivers put their intellect and abilities to the test this weekend as part of Bowman's 2005 Company Driving Championships at the company's warehouse on Showalter Road.

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"We think it's great," said Don Bowman, owner and board chairman of the trucking company. "The ones that get involved really look forward to it. It all kind of adds up, and there's some pretty good drivers here."

The competition started Friday with a written test on motor vehicle codes and the technical specifications of their own vehicles. The event continued Saturday with a pre-inspection test and a road test. The drivers were graded for time and proficiency.

Bowman President and CEO Jim Ward said with the proliferation of tractor-trailer accidents on the news, he hopes the event reinforces the importance of careful safety measures for Bowman drivers. Drivers who have had an accident in the past year are not eligible to compete in the event.

"One of the things we're all about is trying to promote a positive image for the industry," Ward said. "It's really unfortunate, but, however, we've also come to the realization that public perception drives public policy."

Clear Spring resident Tim Federline, who drives for Bowman's Williamsport fleet, said he has seen plenty of reckless drivers on the roads. He said he believes it all comes down to the attitude and experience of the drivers.

"We have to have the mentality to go out there and be professional," Federline said.

As a child, he said, he used to hang out at a truck stop near his home in Frederick, Md., after school and dream of someday driving a big rig. After 20 years living the dream, he said he has not yet tired of it.

"Personal challenges, that's what it's all about," he said. "It's not the regular monotony that most jobs are all about."

Jeff Stanley, who drives for Bowman's Lowe's Dedicated Fleet site in Olin, N.C., said he tries to constantly be aware of his driving habits, both for his own safety and in order to take part in the annual competition.

"You still have your cowboys out there. I'm a trucker and I'll say that," Stanley said. "I'm enjoying my job very much. I'm not my own boss, but I know what I have to do and what my job is."

Stanley said he draws much of his professionalism from watching his father drive trucks for more than 30 years. Stanley has logged 800,000 miles over the past seven years.

"I was just born into this," he said. "I took a lot of pride in my dad. I knew he was a professional. Riding with him, I was the happiest kid in the world."

Winners in the event were recognized Saturday night during an awards ceremony at Bowman's Williamsport residence.

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