The 2016 Drivin’ for Linemen 200 race had one mission in mind — to bring the line industry together. Linemen from across the country convened in late June at Gateway Motorsports Park in Marion, Illinois, for the third-annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series themed event.
“We wanted to stop all the barriers that exist between different affiliations and companies and thank linemen and their families,” says Chad Dubea, a journeyman lineman, founder of the race and owner of Elite Fleet Services, LLC.
Because of the financial burden of hosting the event, Dubea was not sure if he would be able to do it again this year. But thanks to two sponsors — Altec and Buckingham Manufacturing — the race went on, and it was a big success, he says.
“It has taken about two years to get the word out,” Dubea says. “I think having sponsors will help going forward with continuing the race. We thought we would try it one more year, and then if it didn’t kick off, we wouldn’t do it anymore. We were very honored and grateful that it did. Now not all of the financial burden is on me, and the event is bringing different companies together in appreciation of the industry and the linemen.”
During the first year of the Drivin’ for Linemen 200, the organizers were hoping to get around 20,000 fans at the event. Instead, 28,000 cheered on the sidelines. The numbers kept going up — last year’s event drew 32,000, and this year, about 40,000 fans purchased a ticket to the event.
“They keep beating their numbers because linemen come from all over the country to go to the race,” Dubea says.
Racing to the Finish
Just before the qualifying round began, rainfall soaked the 1.25-mile track and delayed the start time by an hour and 15 minutes. As such, the field was set by combined practice speeds. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Ed Rhodes had the top starting position, but was edged out by Christopher Bell, who earned his second career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory.
Bell raced a No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra an average of 89 mph to the finish, giving KBM its 50th victory in the series and tying Roush Fenway Racing for the all-time series wins lead, according to the NASCAR Wire Service. Bell took the lead on Lap 119, and after losing the lead to Rhodes on Lap 149, he reclaimed the lead on Lap 153 and held on to his position until the last lap.
Competing in a Climbing Contest
The Drivin’ for Linemen event not only included the race, but also another special component new for this year — a climbing competition sponsored by Buckingham Manufacturing. Last year, Dubea wanted to do a lineman’s rodeo in conjunction with the event, but the plans for the competition didn’t go forward. This year, Buckingham approached Dubea about sponsoring a “Climbin’ for Linemen” event prior to the race, and the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association also lent a helping hand with the judging.
“They were excited and wanted to help, and it was a huge success,” Dubea says. “Since a lot of the linemen are NASCAR fans, they were all willing and offered their assistance.”
The organizers set up three poles — one set aside for practice and two marked for the competition — on the racetrack grounds. During the morning of the race, 30 climbers represented the 30 fallen linemen from last year. Each climber had the name of a fallen lineman on his or her back during the competition.
As part of the Hurtman Rescue Championship, the linemen climbed up the 40-ft pole to the “injured lineman,” which was represented by a 175-lb dummy, and then used a hand line rope-and-block to tie him off and lower him down to the ground to safety. According to Ameren Illinois, which served as a sponsor of Drivin’ for Linemen, the event had three objectives: showcase the skills of the line worker, promote safety and raise public awareness.
The participants each contributed about $250 in entry fees, and as a result, Buckingham was able to donate $4,000 of the proceeds to the Fallen Lineman Organization (FLO) to help the families of the fallen linemen. The FLO, which was founded by Dubea, helps care for families who have lost or are impacted by a severe injury to a loved one in the line of duty including groundsmen, apprentice and journeymen linemen, operators and substation mechanics.
Jason Novak, a line foreman for Ameren Illinois, won an all-inclusive trip to Mexico for two from the Bevins Company and a championship belt from Buckingham as the top climber. Scott “Woody” Lafore, an electric emergency troubleman for Ameren Illinois in
Belleville, Illinois, finished second, and Cole Winn of Big D Electric in Marion finished third.
Novak, who has been a lineman for the last 19 years, heard about the event through his wife’s Facebook page. Novak holds the company record for the hurtman rescue and can complete the event in 46 seconds, according to Ameren Illinois. He used his skills and focus to win the inaugural event despite the heat and humidity.
“It sounded like a fun thing to do,” Novak says. “I was sweating before the competition even started, but we work in all kinds of weather. I just came back from a storm and came down here, and it was a lot of fun, and there was good camaraderie. The guys did a really good job of running the competition.”
Looking Ahead to Next Year
Next year, Dubea says he plans on doing the climbing competition the night before the race to give the climbers and spectators a different experience.
In addition to watching and participating in the climbing competition, the linemen could also race go carts around the racetrack, and kick back and relax at a country music concert starring a Nashville star who recently released a single.
Next year, Dubea says he is looking forward to another successful race. “We are trying to build up the race, and now we have more people in the industry trying to make the race a success,” he says. “My wife and I have funded it because it is in the central part of America where IBEW started, and we want to bring together union and non-union linemen together to be excited about the industry.”