Not everyone gets to live out their childhood dream when they grow up, but truck driver Gary Martin is one of the lucky ones. He has been driving tractor trailers for 37 years and owns his own trucking company out of Galt.
From Wednesday to Saturday, Martin will take his driving skills on the road to compete in the American Trucking Associations National Truck Driving Championships in Columbus, Ohio, which he describes as “the national truck rodeo.”
Martin said he knew he wanted to be a truck driver from a young age. His father was a firefighter and would take Martin for rides in the fire trucks around the department’s facilities or when there was a parade. Martin said he became infatuated with all the equipment used by the fire crews and knew that one day he wanted to drive trucks.
“My dad would let me sit on his lap and steer the fire truck,” Martin said, adding that he liked to turn on the sirens. “All that stuff kids think is cool, I got to do it.”
When Martin was 18 he got a job on a shipping dock, where he met his wife and slowly taught himself how to drive. Martin said he eventually bought his own truck before opening up Gary Martin Trucking with his wife in 1982.
His dad died about five years ago, but Martin carries on his competitive spirit.
“He was really proud and supportive of me competing in anything,” Martin said. “He was a lumberjack before he became a fireman, so he competed in logging competitions until he was in his 50’s.”
Martin, who normally drives the twin trailers both at work and in trucking competitions, has chosen to compete in the tanker division.
“I figured I’d do something different this year,” Martin said, adding that there are nine categories truckers can choose from if they want to compete, with the winners of each division from each state advancing to the national level.
Martin has competed 13 times at the state level and qualified for the nationals four times, placing third one of those times.
“So, I’ve gotten close, pretty close, I just haven’t crossed over the line yet,” Martin said. “It’s for fun, its kind of like bragging rights.”
But this rodeo is more about completing things safely, rather than just being the fastest. Even to be considered for admittance, a driver has to have a clean driving record for the previous 12 months.
“It’s an incentive, you keep your driving record clean to compete in these type of events,” Martin said, adding that he has driven 4 million miles without an accident.
The competition is comprised of three events that are worth varying amounts of points. The written portion tests drivers’ knowledge of things like safety, regulations and first aid, while the driving course tests safe maneuverability through obstacles and the pre-trip inspection portion highlights a driver’s skill for spotting problems with their rig before heading out on the road. The driver with the most points wins.
“I am best in the driving part of the competition. And I do get a little nervous before the written test,” Martin said. “Other than that, I just do what I do everyday.”
While FedEx, which Martin’s company works for as an independent contractor, is sponsoring him in the competition, Martin says he will also be representing his own company.
“It really means a lot to me to be able to compete in the National Truck Driving Championships, because I love competition,“ Martin said. “And since I’ve met some really great people in the past at these competitions, it gives me an opportunity to meet up with them again.”