It was during the wee hours of the morning on a lonely stretch of highway in a desolate part of Northwest Texas that the Nationwide Tour suffered one of its most tragic losses in its 21-year history.
Thankfully nobody died, although Randy Usina remains hospitalized, but he’s expected to make a full and speedy recovery.
Reports are still sketchy at this point, but evidently a lonesome cow had heard about what a great family bond the Nationwide Tour fraternity enjoys and he wanted to be a part of it. So he jumped at his first opportunity. Bad timing I guess, as Jeff “Cowboy” Hill couldn’t slow quickly enough and he slammed into the cow causing the vehicle to roll. Cowboy walked away unharmed, but Randy was in the passenger’s seat and suffered the most serious injuries – except of course for the cow.
The legend began back in 1990, the inaugural year of the tour. And it was completely unintentional.
Since the Bakersfield Open in early 1990, the Nationwide Tour has been operated from the trailer of a big rig. Out of the back of that rig came all the equipment necessary for the tour to officially run a tournament: scoreboards, radios, caddie bibs, and a wide variety of essentials that many would never think necessary.
Since that big rig traveled to every event, it became the one constant in the constantly changing landscape that is the vagabond life of a touring professional. If you had a question, you’d go there first. Just want to unwind and forget about things, you’d find a corner of the trailer and take in the tranquility. In short, from Day 1, it became the pulse of the entire tour.
Sometime during that very first year, the legend was born, and it was simply named, The Truck.
In the ensuing years, The Truck started to take on a life of its own. Every player, every caddie, every family member was welcome anytime. But so too were volunteers, sponsors, spectators and anybody else who cared to stop. Many of the vital friendships and relationships that are instrumental to the success of the Nationwide Tour to this day, were forged on the back of that truck.
Matt Delaney, current rules official and former Truck staff member (one of the originals from 1990) said it best 10 years ago when a new member of the crew wanted to remove the beer cooler from The Truck in an effort to avoid any negative publicity that may have ever pointed in the tour’s direction. “Having beer on The Truck built this tour,” Matt famously said to his then boss.
The Truck has become such an institution that volunteers from various tournaments will travel around the nation to other tournaments and volunteer to help out any way they can because that darn truck had become part of their family. Players from past years now send pin-flags and other mementos from PGA Tour events they win to proudly display on The Truck. And a few years back, Johnson Wagner promised a big flat-screen TV if he ever won again on the Nationwide Tour. Two days after his next victory, a rather large LCD was delivered. It had been on display since that day.
For the past two years, the PGA Tour would hold a Nationwide Tour reunion at The Players Championship at PGA Tour headquarters and it was always held at The Truck.
There are cookouts a dozen times per year, softball games between The Truck people and everybody else. There’s even an official Truck Cup golf tournament held every year on the Monday preceding the Ft. Smith stop pairing a Nationwide Tour player with a member of The Truck family.
Last year, when a lady who is a valuable member of The Truck family couldn’t rely on her old car to get her to all the events where she would volunteer, The Truck had an idea. They shared it with a few people that liked it and after the final day of the Nationwide Tour Championship, The Truck Mom, Lainey Keller, was presented with a new Subaru Outback completely paid for through donations of people who consider themselves members of The Truck family.
Almost to a man, every player, regardless of whether they’ve gone on to greatness, or returned to a normal life at home, remembers their days on the Nationwide Tour as the happiest of their career. That all started on The Truck.
While The Truck had a physical existence, it also carried with it a somewhat mystical reputation that meant so much more. It may have been just a trailer, but it was unquestionably an institution. It never mattered who you were – rich and famous or despondent and homeless, a player or the guy who empties the trash, a King or a Pauper. And although you may have entered as a stranger for the first time, you always left as a friend.
And so it was, earlier this week, on that stretch of Texas highway that wasn’t too far from where Ben Hogan nearly died in a head on collision in 1949, that The Truck was severely injured. The physical shell is a complete goner, but its soul is alive and well. And much like the “Wee Iceman” himself, The Truck will be back, and it will again rise to prominence. It’s going to take a lot of work, but there will never be a shortage of volunteers to help. A new “Great White” (the name of the huge ice chest that has been through 11 retirement ceremonies when a new one is donated) is on order and will be delivered in two weeks.
I would ask you to say a prayer for The Truck but that isn’t necessary – it’s going to be just fine. Direct those to Randy – I know he’d appreciate it. But if you’re ever in the vicinity of a Nationwide Tour event, do yourself a favor and stop in The Truck. You won’t regret it.