Brad Hinkes will test his skills at the national competition in August
By Hilary Reeves
Brad Hinkes of Carlile Transportation took first place overall at last month’s annual Truck Driving Championships in Anchorage, beating 42 of the state’s most skilled drivers for the chance to represent Carlile and Alaska at the National Truck Driving Championships in Pennsylvania this August.
“I actually thought I did just okay,” Hinkes said. “I was kind of shocked when I won. I was blown away.”
Of the eight Carlile drivers to compete, three — Hinkes, who also placed first in the Three-Axel Tractor-Semitrailer competition; John Browne, who came in first in the Five-Axel Sleeper Berth; and Danny Radcliffe, who came in second in the Five-Axel Flatbed — will go on to Nationals.
Hinkes was born in Arizona, but spent his summers in Alaska visiting his father. He moved to Bristol Bay in 1987 after a stint at Northern Arizona State University, working first as a terminal manager for Peninsula Airways and then moved back to Arizona where he drove a tractor-trailer for a local Home Depot. In 2009, he moved to Fairbanks where he had family and landed a job at Carlile.
“Driving has always come naturally to me, but Carlile was a big change,” Hinkes said. “I’ve learned so much. I’ve gained so much knowledge driving for this company.”
In Arizona, Hinkes said his work mostly involved inner-city deliveries. At Carlile, he has become skilled at things like tying down, oversized loads, doubles, and driving in the mountains. He’s been with the company for almost six years, and this year marked his fourth time competing in the championships.
“I was originally asked to compete in 2011,” Hinkes said, as there was no one representing the three-axel tractor. He took third place, losing the top spot and a trip to Nationals in Florida after forgetting to put his seatbelt on. After a second-place finish in 2012, his first-place finish and trip to Salt Lake City last year was both exhilarating and humbling.
“I ended up with 27th place (at Nationals),” Hinkes said. “I didn’t do well during the inspection. If I had, I could have been in the top-15. That’s my overall goal this year.”
At both the state and national level, the competition has three parts: a written exam consisting of 40 questions on all things trucking, an inspection, and a driving course. The overall winner of the competition is judged by which of the winners of each class has the highest above-average score.
“The written exam questions are pulled from a 350-page book you have to study,” Hinkes explained. “There are questions like, ‘When was the diesel invented?,’ and questions on regulations, hours of service, health and safety, first aid…it cover a lot. The next phase is the inspection. They break things on your truck and you have seven minutes to do a pre-trip inspection, and find and fix anything that’s wrong. Then the driving course is drawn around six obstacles or challenges.”
Hinkes scored a 90 percent on his pre-trip inspection after missing one problem.
“I still don’t know what I missed,” he joked.
But it was his driving that put him on top of the proverbial podium. The last challenge required Hinkes to put his truck an exact distance in front of a pair of simulated rail tracks. He was spot-on.
“Brad is a great professional driver, and he proved it in this competition,” said Ty Gifford, the Fairbanks facility manager. “We had a great showing and we are extremely proud of all the drivers that entered this year’s Truck Driving Championship. We wish him all the best at Nationals.”
In addition to pulling out all the stops on competition day, participating drivers must remain completely ticket- and accident-free during the year leading up to the championships — and that includes the interim between the state championships and Nationals. Hinkes said he is proud of his spotless driving record and the chance to once again represent Carlile.
“I’ve been happy with this company since the moment I came in,” he said. “They’ve always taken care of me. This job is fun for me.”
Hinkes will fly to Pennsylvania with his Fairbanks co-worker Radcliffe, leaving behind his two Alaskan Malamutes and an 82-pound rescue dog that holds the state wheeled-cart pulling record of 1,750 pounds. He, too, hopes for a record, or at least to make a better showing than the last time he was at Nationals.
“I’d be happy placing in the top-15, but my real goal is to be one of the top-five drivers in the country,” he said. “It’s really tough. You’re competing with every first-place driver from every state.”
Hinkes spent more than two years as a Carlile trainer and said he loves turning inexperienced drivers into the safety superstars. He will continue to compete in the championships to challenge himself and strive to display excellence in what is a very challenging job.
“The last driver I trained never had any experience in a truck,” he said, “and he’s now been accident-free for a year. I like a challenge, and the driving up here is definitely challenging.”