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August 12, 2017 4:30 PM, EDT
Watching Out for Little Ducks, Big Rig Drivers
Man Inside the Duck Costume Entertains at NTDC
The duck mascot high-fives a young fan John Sommers II for Transport Topics

ORLANDO, Fla. — The cute, yellow rubber ducks scattered around the skills course at the National Truck Driving Championships take a beating when an unlucky driver bumps into them.

John Sommers II for Transport Topics

While competitors must maneuver as close as they can to the rubber ducks to garner the most points, hitting a duck forfeits their points for that specific challenge.

The ducks have become iconic symbols at the annual event, now 80 years strong, which tests the parking and maneuvering abilities of the country’s top truckers and step van drivers.

And yet nobody seemed to be looking out for the fate of the tiny bathtub toys. Until about three years ago.

Complete 2017 NTDC Coverage

LISTS OF DRIVERS: By company | By state | Finalists

PHOTO GALLERY: All of the pageantry from Orlando | Winners

VIDEO: Day One | Day Two | Championship Day |  Bumper Cam | Sights and Sounds | ELD update

NAIC: Inspectors test their mettle | Houston's Rommel Garcia wins title

“Every morning, I go out there, I go find the ducks and pray for them,” John Mallory, the man inside “The Duck” costume, told Transport Topics on Aug. 12. “[I] give ’em last rites.”

John Sommers II for Transport Topics

This week, Mallory approached a flock of ducks at the start of competition, got down on one knee and thanked the ducks for their contributions. He followed the sacred affair by interacting with fans in the stands, and taking pictures with families and children. What began as a simple gesture for trucking spectators in Oklahoma a few years back has turned into a hit at the national level.

“Everybody just loves it. They think it’s great. The drivers are taught to fear the duck, or respect the duck because if they run over it in competition they don’t get the points. So it’s kind of a love-hate relationship,” explained Mallory, a safety training supervisor at John Christner Trucking in Sapulpa, Okla. “About 80% of the kids like it. There’s a couple that do not. I convince them it’s OK.”

At this year’s NTDC, Mallory performed about three two-hour shifts as “The Duck.” He’ll greet the champions when they are announced at the championship banquet on the evening of Aug. 12. It gets hot inside the costume, but the mask has a built-in fan and Mallory also uses ice packs to stay cool.

Trucking is a passion for Mallory, a third-generation trucker. He considers his role as the guardian angel of the little rubber ducks on the course to be an honor, and one small way in which he can pay tribute to the drivers.

The Duck unmasked: John Mallory by John Sommers II for Transport Topics