Line work is one of the top 10 most dangerous occupations, yet many Americans do not know what it takes to keep the lights on. To create awareness of the line trade, Chad and Amy Dubea, founders of the Fallen Linemen Organization, sponsor the annual NASCAR race called Drivin’ for Linemen 200.
Now in its fourth year, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race attracts linemen from across the country to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. This year, 19,000 fans packed the stadium, which is the highest number of attendees since Curtis Francois purchased the speedway in 2012 and brought NASCAR back to the St. Louis region in 2014, says John Bisci of Gateway Motorsports Park.
Through the event, Dubea says he wanted to bring linemen together to celebrate the trade, honor those who have passed on, and recognize those linemen still working in the field.
"We are trying to really bring thanks to our industry and appreciation to the people who are in it," Dubea says. "It doesn’t matter if you are with a utility or a contractor or are union or non-union. On the day of the race, it all goes away. We’re just all proud to be in the industry that we are in."
As in past years, the race also included a Climbin’ for Linemen competition sponsored by Buckingham Manufacturing and Altec, which offered bucket truck rides to the attendees. Thirty-nine linemen entered the climbing competition, which was won by Jason Novak of Ameren Illinois for the second year in a row. Novak and his wife won airfare and a four-night vacation to Mexico, a prize donated by the Bevins company.
For a $150 entry fee, the linemen not only climbed the poles, but they also participated in a hurtman’s rescue and pulled open a cutout from the ground using an extendo stick. Like at the International Lineman’s Rodeo, they took care not to break an egg when climbing the pole during the Saturday morning competition.
In addition to the climbing competition, the event also included a free NASCAR driver autograph section and a free concert on the midway by The Band Steele, which also played a special tribute song for the linemen.
To kick off the race, linemen from two sponsoring line contractors — Line Tech Services and Willbros T&D Services — climbed the poles, which were set near the racetrack.
"It was awesome to have all the companies and linemen climbing right before the race," Dubea says. "It was great to have the contractors serve as sponsors and get involved."
Honoring Fallen Linemen
The Drivin’ for Linemen 200 race recognized not only the linemen in the grandstands, but also those who have been injured or killed in the line of duty. To recognize the fallen linemen, a memorial statue stands in the Winners’ Circle at the racetrack. All of the proceeds of the Climbin’ for Linemen competition were also donated directly to the Fallen Linemen Organization, which helps linemen’s families with bills following an accident or fatality.
"When a lineman has an incident in the field, his company may not be found liable, and the lineman may be found at fault," Dubea says. "Families shouldn’t be the ones to suffer. If they have lost someone or bills are not getting paid, we try to pick up what isn’t covered by worker’s compensation."
Over the years, Dubea says the Fallen Lineman Organization has continued to evolve and help support families in need. In 2017 alone, Dubea knows of 14 linemen fatalities in the U.S. Many more linemen may be injured or die each year, however, and he says it’s time for the industry to come together.
"If all the linemen across the industry shared information, we could all learn from it and make the line trade safer and more rewarding for all," Dubea says. "We could stop the incidents and the dollars being paid out so we can give the money back to the linemen."
Often, Dubea says the foundation hears about fatalities and injuries a year or two after they occur, and he discovers a lot of the incidents through Facebook. To honor these fallen linemen, Dubea sponsored a truck in the Drivin’ for Linemen 200 race three years ago. Along with placing the organization’s logo on the hood and the names of the fallen linemen on the back of the truck, Dubea also created replica die-cast trucks for each of the families of the fallen linemen.
Because it requires a significant investment to keep the race going, however, Dubea says he is now focused on investing in the race itself. In the future, he hopes to get more involvement from the industry for the race, which takes place every June at the Gateway Motorsports Park.
"We want to continue to see it grow and move forward," he says. ♦
Editor’s note: Visit tdworld.com to see a photo gallery from the 2017 Drivin’ for Linemen 200 race, visit www.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations.