Drivers geared up for national event

Local truck drivers Tom Shope and Chester Masser Jr. have qualified for "The Super Bowl of Safety" later this month.

Local truck drivers Tom Shope and Chester Masser Jr. have qualified for "The Super Bowl of Safety" later this month.

August 10, 2009|By BRANDON BIELTZ

Safety first.

Those two words -- often spoken by mothers across the country -- have been taken to a professional level by two local truck drivers.

Hagerstown-based FedEx drivers Tom Shope and Chester Masser Jr. will put their safe driving skills to the test later this month at the 72nd National Truck Driving Championships in Pittsburgh. The event, also called "The Super Bowl of Safety," is Aug. 18 to 22 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Shope, 47, of Willow Hill, Pa., has driven more than 3 million accident-free miles during his 29 years as a professional driver. He drives twin trailers, also called "doubles."


Masser, 54, of Hagerstown, has 2.8 million accident-free miles in 34 years on the road. He has driven a tank truck for 22 years.

The national championships recognize the professionalism and safety of about 450 truck drivers from across the country. The annual competition began in 1937 as the National Truck Roadeo.

To qualify for the event, a driver must be accident-free for a full year prior to the competition. The driver also must win his or her truck class at the state competition to qualify for the national championships.

Shope was the grand champion at the Maryland event, accumulating the highest point total among the winners.

The competition consists of a written exam, a pre-trip inspection and a skills test.

"The written test has a lot to do with changes and regulations in the industry," Shope said.

The test includes questions such as, "How many bridges are in the country?" Masser said.

During the pre-trip inspection, competitors must spot problems on their trucks, much like they would before they hit the road on any normal day. Shope said there are defects ranging from oil leaks to lighting issues that drivers must spot.

The skills test is the ultimate measure of the drivers' abilities behind the wheel. It requires drivers to operate the trucks and make maneuvers they would make during a normal trip.

But there is a slight difference between driving in the competition and driving on the road, Masser and Shope said.

In competition, drivers are judged by how close they come to a given obstacle. Masser explained that in the serpentine section of the course it's not enough to just weave through the barrels without hitting them. Drivers must get as close as possible to each one, he said.

"We try to get close to things we avoid on a daily basis," Shope said. "It's not something you practice for every day."

As is the case on the road, the margin for error is very small for drivers. The difference between scoring 50 points and no points on the course can be as little as 18 inches.

The skills test is different for each of the nine truck classes. For example, drivers in the twin trailers class will have to dock during their test, but drivers in the tank truck class will not.

Masser said he thinks the championships have a positive effect on drivers who compete.

"You think it's silly to drive around cones, but when you see the degree of professionalism and concern for safety, it raises your whole level of awareness," he said.

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