Racing a Rhino by Dennis Pittsenbarger





Fuck, fuck…and fuuuuuuuck.


Like this word or not this is what was going through my head as I sat suspended sideways awaiting the safety crew to arrive.


Like you, I’m not a rich man, not a particularly smart guy, and I’m not the most successful business man you will ever meet by a long shot. But, I have some really great friends that for whatever reason like to give me opportunities in different slices of the competitive field of motorsports. Meet the Meritor ChampTruck World Series and just as important their sponsor Optima Batteries.


ChampTruck is the home of one of the most spectacular racing series I’ve ever laid eyes on. Open to both professionals and novices the ChampTruck series is full of action packed 12,000 pound, drifting, shifting, and hard core racing that is only truly appreciated in person. It’s about as “’Merica” as you can get, and when I got a chance to slide behind the wheel of one of these behemoth beauties, I could not say “yes” fast enough.


Then I arrived at the track….


It’s a common saying that you can only make one first impression, and it’s true in motorsports as well. Climbing into the cab of the #11 Optima entry was only the beginning and let me tell you … that first impression was one of beastly power and massive size that said one simple thing to me – this gentle giant packed a serious punch.


After the normal preparation of syncing my safety gear with that of the #11 and a quick starting, running and driving rundown, I headed out onto the twelve turns that make up Portland International Raceway. I then proceeded to discover that driving a SEMI-truck was no easy task at first, but with some pointers and instruction I went from a bit intimidated to “lets go racing” in two practice sessions. Perhaps I was a little too confident?


Nightfall came and went from Friday, and we were greeted with a fresh Pacific NW morning. After a great practice session and a decent qualifying run, I was ready to attack PIR with some zest and vigor. In fact, I was brimming with confidence with a little swagger in my step. It was time to head out onto the track for race number one of seven throughout the weekend.


Starting from the 6th position I was somewhat tame and reserved only due to the lack of experience while inside the “racing Rhino” as I’ve come to call the #11 ChampTruck I was piloting. Once the first few laps were under my belt, and a bit of a sorting between the various trucks had taken place, I found myself behind the Minimizer Team Tortured #54 with Brad Klemmensen behind the wheel. And, then the adrenaline started to kick in.


See I was suppose to “take it easy” and “lay back” and “bring home a race truck in one piece”. But, as so many of you know, once the green flag drops the bullshit stops, and I was not about to be handed my drivers suit on my home track. And, that’s where it starts to and eventually goes wrong.


Brad and I spent the better side of race one within inches of each other with myself on the chase, and then I decided it was time to go… and go I did.


Setting myself up for a run down the back straight of PIR, I was waiting for that perfect exit off seven, and once I had it, I knew it was time to lay the hammer down and attempt the pass. But, one thing I seemed to forget at the time … we are both inside gigantic semi-trucks barreling down the back side of PIR and someone would need to give.



Well, that person was me. I had made the run down beside Brad and was set up perfectly for the pass going though turn ten, and then in that micro-second I did something I now both regret and stand by my actions.



I lifted … and played it safe.




Whether Brad knew I was there or not, even if I had the inside line and even if I did what I hoped not to do – send Brad off track right into the concrete barriers I sent the #11 ChampTruck into the grass and hoped for the best.




Some counter steer here and some throttle blipping there, and I found myself off track and thinking I was off to mow some of the infield grass around PIR, but it did not stop there.




See 12,000-pound trucks do not like purposely-soft ground set up to trap traditional race cars with a center of gravity that is not six feet in the air. And, just like that, I’m sitting in the cab of a ChampTruck, staring at the world sideways … nothing hurt except my pride and an Optima sponsored ChampTruck.


See that was the ONE THING my friends and Optima Batteries said NOT to do … wreck the truck … see the first sentence of this story, there is no need to type the word again – just imagine me yelling it at myself inside the cab of that truck.


But all that really mattered was okay … after a better safe than sorry once over from the track safety crew and being asked the normal “what day is it?” and “where are you?” questions by the attentive EMTs, I took my walk of shame down through the pits towards my pit. I was not happy with what I found.






At first glace I thought, “That’s it, I’m done for the weekend.” And, in reality the exact opposite happened.


The guys from ChampTruck as well as other teams were on the #11 ChampTruck like flies on a rump-roast. And, in about twenty minutes and several repairs (if you can believe it), it was time to get back out onto the track for the next race. John Condren CEO, Executive Director, and Founder of ChampTruck, just looked at me and said, “That’s ChampTruck baby, we get shit done and now get out there and get it done.” And, with that, I was back out in the final race, and if you can believe this, I was laying down faster lap times in the race AFTER the wreck than before!




In closing this article I feel like I should read off the thank you list like I’m at the podium during the Oscars. Thanks to the drivers of the ChampTruck Series that still signed my poster after our autograph session “Thanks for the caution laps”. Thanks Ricky Rude – I deserved that one. To the crews and team support of the ChampTruck series in getting the truck back together – Justin Ball, Bob Ball, Ron McConnell – guys from the Jupiter and Minimizer team all are on the list of endless thank yous for helping get the #11 back on the track.


As for me … I’ll be back out and at it first thing Sunday morning in what I would argue is some of the best racing on the planet.




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