Some contests are, unashamedly, ‘rigged’ and that was the case when the country’s ‘best big rig’ drivers converged on Tauranga late last year for the 2016 Truck Driver of the Year competition.
A Buckland local ultimately claimed top honours, as JON RAWLINSON explains.
Top of my list for Thursday: call the 2016 Truck Driver of the Year to firm up plans for an interview. He’s a little concerned that we might make him come across as a bit flash; he tells me he’s no Burt Reynolds. You betcha he’s not, but this modest (yet irreverent) truckie is sure has heck 100%, uniquely, Stuart Howard.
“Everyone said I was a bit of a dick for entering (family included) but who’s the dick now? I got 10 grand, mate! For now, it’s going into the bank; there’s always plenty of room in there,” he laughs.
“I didn’t do this to get any more work, though, honestly. I was actually very embarrassed when I heard I’d won and even thought about giving the money back. I’m not one to have extravagant stuff and show off. I like to keep a low profile.”
While Stuart may not seek notoriety (or fame) I suspect this larger-than-life character would have as much chance of avoiding it as a big rig dodging a rogue rabbit running down the motorway!
Securing victory during this drivers’ championship was no walk in the park. After qualifying at regional level, Stuart competed for the national title in Tauranga. Competitors completed a written test and vehicle inspections then demonstrated their skills behind the wheel.
After scores were tallied, Stuart was shocked by the result, announced at the subsequent Road Transport Industry Awards Dinner.
“John Baillie from Papakura only got one question wrong. When they read out the finalists, his wife looked at him, they both looked at me (I know them well) and I think he was about ready to get up when they read out my name as the overall winner instead… A lot of jaws dropped. There were a few guys who’re very competitive and I think they were a bit bummed out.”
Despite his win, the 36-year-old concedes he’s far from perfect.
“I got my licence when I was 17, so, yeah, I have spent plenty of time on the road. But I’m the first to admit that I’ve made my share of F-ups! A man who’s made no mistakes has made nothing.”
Along with brother, Patrick, and father, Terrance, Stuart hauls virtually anything rural-related, (except livestock), from kiwi fruit and wool, to poles, timber and posts.
“I went to Buckland School, my dad went there and my grandfather [Robin Howard].
My grandfather had trucks and so did my great-grandfather [Frank Fearon] who started with a horse and cart. Thinking about it, the amount trucks cost to run these days, we might need to go back to that. I don’t know about the emissions, [from horses] though!”
Unfortunately, employing quality drivers to share the work load(s) is not so easy. Today’s rigorous licensing conditions discourage youngsters from taking on the trade, Stuart believes.
“These days, you go up in classes [of licence], so it takes much longer; they could be in their 20s by time they’re allowed to drive big rigs. In the meantime, they just won’t be paid enough to drive smaller trucks.
“I reckon kids driving in trucks with their dads are riding along with their heroes. By the time they’re 17 or 18, they can probably drive better than most, and feel it’s not worth their while to spend all that time getting licences to do what they already know how to do.”
I ask whether Stuart is himself hero to a fifth generation of the family ready to carry on in his tyre tracks, or whether he and a partner are preparing for the revving of little engines. He euphemistically quips: “Let’s just say that, although I’ve got the pencil, I have no paper to write on at the moment…”
By JON RAWLINSON