Only In Texas: Riding the Range at the Truck Rodeo

Chevy Silverado Texas Auto Writers Association
Watch this inner cowgirl kick in when driving the Chevy Silverado during the Texas Auto Writers Association's annual truck rodeo. Copyright Raven Studios 2014

Two days of Driving and Judging at the Academy Awards of Trucks.

I joined  the Texas Auto Writers Association a couple of years ago urged on by my friend, Sue Mead. It’s really hard to say no to Sue, a fellow journalist and winner of numerous off-road awards.

Although I test drive lots of luxury cars and SUVs, I am smitten with trucks and off-road vehicles. My first year as an automotive journalist, nearly two decades ago, I attended a Chevy test drive in Virginia.

The first part of the trip was driving Corvettes on narrow, hilly roads. Admittedly, I was a timid driver and slow at maneuvering around tight corners. After being passed by several journalists numerous times, my co-driver asked to take over the wheel. I was both relieved and embarrassed.

Land Rover Truck Texas Auto Writers Association

It’s not a Land Rover until the Land Rover gets down and dirty at the Texas Auto Writers Association truck rodeo. Copyright Raven Studios 2014

However, once we got to the ranch and were given Silverado trucks to drive on a rigorous off-road course, my inner cowgirl kicked in and I was AMAZING. Even those dudes who had passed me in the Corvette were impressed.

When I hit the dirt I have no fear. I am more scared to pass cars on a New Jersey highway than I am to maneuver in the Gobi Desert. With Land Rover I have driven in places as far-reaching as Argentina and Mongolia. With many other manufacturers I have tested out tundra all over the country. People who know me in NYC where I live can’t believe that I love playing in the dirt. I do!

Off-Road Adrenaline Rush: Aunt Mimi Would Have Loved This

That’s my history with off-road driving. All I knew about the upcoming truck rodeo in San Antonio, to which I was invited, was that there were lots of vehicles, great barbeque and fun people. I was pumped: not only to see all of my Texas buddies but also because I had recently won an award for TAWA’s Excellence in Craft Competition.

My piece was about driving with my 86-year-old Aunt Mimi at Land Rover Driving School in Asheville, North Carolina. All I can say is Mimi was hard-core and didn’t wince at even the iciest descents. I wish she had been with me at the rodeo. She would have had a blast!

The Texas Auto Writers Association was founded in 1987 by a small group of dedicated automotive writers. In 1992, the organization created an annual automotive event unique to Texas and called it the “Texas Truck Rodeo.” For two days, media members drive OEM vehicles both off-road and asphalt routes on the edge of Texas Hill Country. The journalists then vote for the best vehicles in a variety of categories and pick the infamous Truck of Texas.

Texas is obviously the best place to hold a truck rodeo. It is the biggest market for full-size pickup trucks in the country: more than 1 in 5 vehicles sold in the state are pickups.

For the past several years, the truck rodeo has been held at Knibbe Ranch just outside San Antonio.

The Pressure is On: Choosing the Best Truck in Texas

I was among 60 auto writers/judges driving 75 vehicles from 18 brands. There was a list of 17 vehicle categories (and three others for technology, connectivity and powertrain). I knew the SUVs, but was not familiar with many of the trucks. As a novice, I was nervous and rightfully so.

“This is a big deal: we are here to choose the truck of Texas,” Sue said as she took off to give the rodeo sponsors (Steel Market Development Institute) a tour of the course. “Where do I start?” I cried out after her. She replied, “Just try to drive all of the cars in one group so you can cross it off your list.”

Sounds logical, right? But it’s hard to stay focused on one category because the vehicles are never there at the same time. (Say I wanted to stick to the full-size CUVs. I might be able to snag two of them in a row but would have to wait for the other ones to return.)

Trucks At Texas Auto Writers Association Rodeo

So many trucks at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s truck rodeo, so little time. Copyright Raven Studios 2014

I wasn’t up for waiting, so I’d just choose whatever was available in another category. That had me jumping from compact SUVs to heavy-duty trucks to luxury pickups (etc. etc.) on 20 to 30 minute intervals. You get the picture? I was all over the place. Thankfully, at one point, my friend, Linda Water Nelson, found me wandering and we partnered for a while, so she could help me get organized.

Recharging Our Batteries at the Chuckwagon

Luckily, the driving closed down at lunch so we were compelled to take an hour break. After digging into barbecued chicken, coleslaw, cornbread and sweet tea, I got on the computer and started to work on my judging ballot to get ahead of the game. It was a really easy system to negotiate – in spite of some Internet glitches.

After lunch, I was on my game. I knew the courses and was getting a feel for the trucks. It was intoxicating. Plus, I clocked seven miles on my Fitbit just racing between vehicles. But, I was almost fainting with exhaustion and nervous energy. This is what happens when you give a judging ballot to a type A personality.

Will The Tough Dodge Ram Be A Winner At The Texas Auto. Writers Association  Rodeo? Copyright Raven Studios 2014

Will the tough Dodge Ram be a winner at the Texas Auto. Writers Association rodeo? Copyright Raven Studios 2014

The day ended with a yummy home-style Texan dinner at the ranch. After driving back to the hotel, Sue and I met in my room for some Pilates and TV (Scandal) and I hit the pillow early.

The next morning after a breakfast of cornbread, bacon, and strong coffee, I was rebooted. I was able to tackle the remaining categories, talk to a lot of wonderful people, calm down about my competency and enjoy the moment.

Before Sue and I got in the van to the airport I finished off the ballot. A nail biter for sure!

And The Winner is …

Between airports Sue and I got some of the judging results. I was truly psyched and could understand why TAWA loves this event. It felt like the Academy Awards for Trucks.

Ford F150 Truck Texas Auto Writers Association

Ford trucks are the big winners at the annual Texas Auto Writers Association’s truck rodeo. Copyright Raven Studios 2014

Plus, it seems that I’m not such a novice when it comes to trucks. As it turned out, many of my votes were spot on. I’ll be more prepared next year. I’ve got to get me some trucks to test in NYC!

Below is the list of the 2014 TAWA Truck Rodeo Winners:

Truck of Texas: 2015 Ford F-150

CUV of Texas: 2015 Lincoln MKC

SUV of Texas: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Truck Line of Texas: Ford Motor Co.


Compact CUV: 2015 Honda CR-V Touring

Mid-size CUV: 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium

 Full-size CUV: 2015 Kia Sedona SX

Luxury CUV: 2015 Lincoln MKC

Compact SUV: 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Mid-size SUV: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

Full-size SUV: 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71

Compact Luxury SUV: 2015 Range Rover Evoque

Mid-size Luxury SUV: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit EcoDiesel

Full-size Luxury SUV: 2015 GMC Yukon Denali

Off-road Utility Vehicle: 2015 Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler

Mid-size Pickup Truck: 2015 Chevrolet Colorado

Full-size Pickup Truck: 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch

Luxury Pickup Truck: 2015 Ford F-150 Platinum

Heavy Duty Pickup Truck: 2015 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn

Off-road Pickup Truck: 2015 Ram Power Wagon

Commercial Vehicle: 2015 Ford Transit 250

Best Connectivity: 2015 Chrysler UConnect

Best Powertrain: 2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel V-6

Best Technology: 2015 Ford F-150 aluminum body

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Holly has written about travel, cars, culture and health since she bought the first generation Macintosh. Her portfolio includes... More about Holly Reich