It gets in your blood … or does it?

Often in life, people say something to which your reaction is “Well, we’ll see” – then somewhere down the line, you hit that watershed moment. I wonder if it’s like that for everybody.

I joined FOCUS about a year-and-a-half ago. I had no prior experience with, and very limited knowledge of, trucks, trucking or the commercial vehicle industry in part or as a whole. I knew a few things, but the bulk of my knowledge and experience was in cars (or dinky toys … ).

But I love anything with wheels and an engine, so I ventured into trucks. “Diesel gets into your blood”, I was told by quite a few people. I wasn’t too convinced.

I’ve certainly learned a thing or two over this short time, but it wasn’t until spending time in the company of 18 extra-heavy rigs and their charismatic drivers during this year’s Truck Test that I began to see what they meant. I was finally able to experience the vehicles on the road, from a completely different perspective.

Although I didn’t get to drive any of the big beauties, my eyes were opened just witnessing the techniques and skill of the three drivers I was able to ride with – Hino driver training assistant manager Sam Senne, Scania driver training team leader Dirk Koekemoer and International sales executive Kobus Botha.

If you want to learn how to drive and properly read a road, take a trip with an experienced and passionate extra-heavy driver. In fact, every person who uses the road should do so. Your new-found appreciation for what it takes to drive a fully-loaded rig up and down mountains, the driver reading the road and using the vehicle’s mass to his advantage, changes the way you view these behemoths that you normally whizz past, annoyed that they’re in your way.

I’ll admit that, while I’m obsessive about my dinky toys, the diesel is slowly dripping in.

But is it like that for everyone? Sure, it is for the Sennes, Koekemoers and Bothas of the world. These guys have been driving trucks and imparting their knowledge their whole lives – they had their watershed moment long before I was even born, and for them it’s become a passion.

Each demonstrated utmost concentration, patience and forward-thinking while driving. Senne and Koekemoer would even pick out each and every thing the drivers around them did wrong.

“Now you see here,” said Koekemoer just outside Harrismith, “here comes a ‘yoh-yoh’ moment!”

“A yoh-yoh moment?” I chuckled.

“Ja, this oke is trying to overtake us but will never be able to complete the manoeuvre before our lanes merge ahead – so what’s he going to do?”

What indeed. With a dead quiet road, Koekemoer wasn’t going to slow right down for him to pass, only to have to get back to speed again. That kind of thing affects fuel consumption and trip times.

A few seconds later, the driver of the rig creeping up alongside us had his “yoh-yoh!” moment: seeing the lanes merge, he hit anchors and fell back way behind us. Koekemoer had seen it coming. I laughed. It was hard not to feel superior. Being out in front, in the better truck with a driver who knows his stuff, is pretty cool.

Koekemoer explained that he once coached someone who, at the point of getting himself into a similar tight spot, in panic screamed out “YOH-YOH!” The words stayed with him, and he hauls them out more often than he should need to.

Which got me thinking, are the people these guys sell to and train passionate about their jobs driving long-distance? Is diesel in their blood? Judging by some of the shocking driving we see every day, I don’t really think so. I know I’m not the world’s very best driver, but if I was critical before, experiencing Truck Test 2012 has made me even more so.

The hours are long, it gets tiring, and there are constant pressures to deliver on time and maybe even make the return journey that same day. Some are simply impatient and take one too many chances. It’s a big reason why many drivers experience yoh-yoh moments, and why these all too often become tragic.

As for me, I’ll take my diesel – but hold the YOH-YOH …

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