A race to be safe

Dan Shamrell is a star in his own ranks. 

He's been driving trucks for 22 years at FedEx Freight in Portland. So it's safe to say that Shamrell knows the road and that he's pretty good at avoiding his share of aggressive drivers over the span of his 750,000 accident-free miles.

Still, every shift starts out pretty much the same for Shamrell – with an exhaustive pre-trip inspection. This calculated approach has not only earned the Battle Ground driver a lot of respect from his company and colleagues – it's also earned him a national championship.

Since 1990, Shamrell has been competing in truck driving competitions. Originally, he started competing so that his four children could see him driving at the state competition, but enjoyed it so much that he's come back ever since.

"To me keeping safe is a lot like a Boy Scout – you've got to be prepared," Shamrell said. "First, it's about knowing you have a safe unit to drive, and then it's all about attentiveness and driving defensively in any situation."

On June 20, Shamrell competed yet again. He applied his morning routine amongst a field of twenty other drivers at the Oregon State Truck Driving Championships. Not only did that routine post the best pre-trip score, his driving ability secured him a first place finish in the three-axle division and landed him a berth in the American Trucking Associations' National Truck Driving Championship, running Aug. 18 to 22.

"The competition back there is very stiff," Shamrell said. "It's a very challenging event, but it's all based on safety which is all about what we do as drivers."

Shamrell is part of that stiff competition. In his eight appearances at nationals, he's placed in the "Top 5" six times and took home the gold belt buckle – just like the Olympics, the truck drivers compete for bronze, silver and gold – for his first place victory in 2006.

A clean driving record is also part of the criteria drivers must meet to compete at the NTDC. Each year they see about 400 contestants in nine categories, so the competition creates great incentive – both directly and indirectly – for professional drivers to operate safely and effectively.

The lessons they learn while competing are also valuable. The weekend includes a written exam on policy, procedure and regulations, as well as a pre-trip test consisting of 15 hidden defects.

But the main attraction is the drive. Here, competitors confront six problems on a course ranging from parallel parking to complicated turns. Each has a detailed point scale based on how well the driver executes the obstacle.

"It's an extremely precise event," Shamrell explained. "It's not based on speed, so I'm rarely going over five miles-per-hour the entire run."

Regardless of the speed, the competition – similar to truck driving – requires preparation. Shamrell has studied the 250-page manual thoroughly, continues to fine-tune his pre-trip and has been simulating problems from the driving course.

"I've always been of the mindset that you put out your best effort," he said. "But you have to be prepared in order to put out your best effort."