Richard Hill shows off some of the controls in his truck at the Walmart Distribution Center in Lewiston. The photo was taken with a fisheye lens.  Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Richard Hill poses with his truck at the Walmart Distribution Center in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — In his 34-year career, truck driver Richard Hill has driven 3.7 million miles and made it to the American Trucking Association national championships seven times.

This fall, he will start on the road toward reaching his eighth.

When the updated ATA guidebook comes out each winter, he makes up flashcards. On the job each day, he issues challenges: How close can he get to that crack in the pavement without going over? Close enough to get full marks in competition?

“This is the weird part, I don’t stop thinking about it,” said Hill, 55. “I’ve already, in my mind, said what class I’m going to go in next year, how I’m going to study.”

There are zero plans to repeat his very first attempt at the company level in 1996, when he didn’t make it out of the local Hannaford lot.

“I think I finished dead last,” Hill said. “I am a very competitive-type-of-nature person.”

Hill, who grew up in Conway, New Hampshire, and still lives there, said his uncle drove trucks when he was young, which got him interested in the job. He’s driven for several companies, including Hannaford for 11 years and Walmart since 2007.

Home base is Lewiston’s Walmart Distribution Center, where he’s one of 150-plus drivers. He travels as far as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, delivering groceries and coming back empty or getting routed for a pickup on the return.

“I love driving,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but I’ve always come back to driving because that’s what I enjoy the most.”

There’s flexibility, he said, and feeling like your own boss. Work starts on Monday mornings, when he signals to dispatch how long he’d like to be on the road that day. (Days can be as long as 14 hours with 11 hours behind the wheel.) Within an hour of his start time, he’s given that day’s route, makes sure he has enough pressed shirts and pants in his cab, and it’s go time.

“I’m here until I go home Friday night,” Hill said. “I sleep in the truck Monday (to) Thursday night. . . . I sleep better in my truck than I do at my house.”

He spends time on the road listening to a trucking channel on SiriusXM — it’s industry talk about issues like compliance, maintenance and rule changes — along with some rock, country and business channels.

When he arrives at a Walmart for a delivery, “I pull my padlock off and that’s all I’m required to do — I don’t want to get my white shirt dirty,” Hill said, laughing.

Sometimes he helps unload for exercise.

Each fall, the company holds a voluntary trucking competition at the distribution center, sending the top 10% of finishers on to the state championship. Each winner in eight different trucking classes at states heads on to the American Trucking Association nationals.

Since Hill lives in New Hampshire and works in Maine, after winning a spot at the company level, he can choose to compete at the state level in Maine or New Hampshire, and he’s done a mix of both.

Competitions at each step involve a written test, a six-obstacle course and a pre-trip inspection flagging issues on a truck that’s purposefully rife with them: a nail in a tire, missing rubber around a fuel cap, a bum wiper, a simulated stashed bag of drugs.

“They try to be tricky and trip you up,” Hill said.

The driving obstacles can be any mix of challenges, he said. A front stop, a rear stop, a turn close to a barrel, driving over and avoiding tennis balls.

“There’s thousands of combinations they can come up with, so you never really truly know until you show up for the day and they give you the course,” he said. “You have an 18-inch scoring pad, so you need to have your front bumper 18 inches from that scoring pad. The rear stop needs to be 18 inches from the rear of the trailer.”

The state event is in the spring, nationals in late summer. This year at the ATA championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Hill came in 23rd of about 50 drivers in the tanker class.

His best national ranking was third place, in 2014. Hill has about 25 trophies at home from his different wins.

“It’s a little personal thing with me — I want to be the best of the best,” he said. “I’m leaning toward sleeper class this next year. I look at different drivers and I try to position myself so I have the best chance to go onto the next level. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Working is a recurring Sun Journal feature that profiles people on the job in the community. If you have someone you would like to suggest, contact writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected] or (207) 689-2844.

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