John Mallory, "The Duck" mascot, unmasked at the 2017 National Truck Driving Championhips and National Step Van Driving Championships. Mallory has been NTDC's mascot for most of the past decade and might be missing the festivities this week as much as the drivers. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
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With this year’s National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not just the drivers who are disappointed. The man disguised as everyone’s favorite mascot feels like a duck out of water.
“I hope all this stuff goes away so we can play again next year,” John Mallory said. “I’m ready.”
Mallory is the director of safety for Sapulpa, Okla.-based John Christner Trucking, which ranks No. 83 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America. He’s also been known as "The Duck" mascot at NTDC for the better part of a decade. There’s no question he will be excited for next year’s event, slated for August in Minneapolis. But it’s fair to wonder whether he would’ve been able to fulfill his duties this year, had NTDC been held as scheduled in Indianapolis Aug. 19-22.
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Mallory was doing yardwork at home about six weeks ago when he tore the rotator cuff in his left shoulder and had to undergo surgery.
“My wife also had back surgery recently, but I’ve been able to take care of her with one arm,” Mallory said, adding he was able to remove his sling Aug. 18.
Mallory said his primary job at NTDC as The Duck is to have fun with fans and make sure the drivers are respected, “because every one of the drivers there is a winner.”
“I love doing it,” said Mallory, who had no prior mascot experience before donning the big, yellow suit. “It’s just been one of those deals that has blown up, and I didn’t expect it to be this big in my wildest dreams. … I have a very good sense of humor, and it doesn’t embarrass me in any form or fashion; people get a kick out of it when a 57-year-old man gets out of the suit.”
The Duck greets drivers at 2016 NTDC. “If you haven’t tried fist-bumping with about 450 people, you should,” John Mallory said. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Interacting with drivers is what Mallory said he misses most with the cancellation of this year’s NTDC.
“My favorite part is taking pictures with everybody and taking pictures with all the drivers when they come on stage, and we’re fist-bumping,” Mallory said. “If you haven’t tried fist-bumping with about 450 people, you should.”
Elisabeth Barna, executive vice president for industry affairs at American Trucking Associations, praised Mallory for providing a boost to the energy and atmosphere at NTDC.
“[The] National Truck Driving Championships would not be the same without The NTDC Duck. John is a master of getting the fans in the stands excited, keeping the kids and families entertained, and making the competitors feel at ease,” Barna said in an email. “His enthusiasm and antics put a smile on all of our faces. The NTDC Duck was the inspiration for Safety Sammy [another trucking mascot], and it is so much fun to see them on the competition course together.”
The Duck and Safety Sammy together at 2018 NTDC. The Duck was the inspiration behind Sammy, ATA executive Elisabeth Barna said. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Technically, in addition to being an entertainer and making sure drivers feel like a million bucks, Mallory, as The Duck, is a judge for the driver obstacle course. While it hasn’t happened at NTDC, there were a few instances in the early years of being The Duck at a state competition in which he was within earshot of prohibited coaching, such as managers telling drivers when to stop their trucks. Mallory noted that he does not talk while in the suit — he only carries a device that makes quacking noises — so he went to a judge dressed in a white polo shirt and alerted them to the possible infraction.
“They probably didn’t know I was a judge,” he said.
Though The Duck mascot now enjoys prominence in trucking circles, it had an inconspicuous beginning, according to Mallory.
The Duck plays peekaboo with a child at 2019 NTDC. When deciding who should be the duck, Mallory said he was told he had the perfect personality for it. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Toy rubber ducks on the obstacle courses had been a fixture for several years. About 10 years ago, Mallory was a member of Oklahoma Trucking Association’s safety council. Members were meeting in a hotel to plan that year’s truck driving championships when the idea came up that someone should take the duck theme a step further and dress up in a duck suit.
Pretty soon, Mallory, who thinks he was the chairman that year, was the leading candidate to be the mascot.
“They said, ‘You know, you would make the perfect duck,’ ” Mallory said. “People were saying I had the best personality for it.”
The Duck was a hit. A couple of years later, Mallory was asked by ATA to dress up at NTDC.
The Duck hugs a woman at 2017 NTDC. Mallory said people get a kick out of The Duck being a 57-year-old man. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Mallory said one suit lasts about five years. He’s the only one who has ever worn the suit so that it is preserved. Two suits are ready to go when championship season rolls around. One stays at JCT Trucking. He uses that one at the Oklahoma competition, a couple of other state TDCs that have invited him, and a few other local trucking events. He used to fly with that one to NTDC, but an incident one year caused him to rethink his strategy.
“I had to wait two hours at the airport for it to come because [the airline] misplaced it,” Mallory said.
So now Mallory has a second suit under the safeguard of ATA that he uses at NTDC.
As to whether he would ever need a backup due to injury or illness, Mallory said he would have to pick someone.
“It hasn’t happened before, but somebody would be in the suit,” he said.
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