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Who's the Best Back Seat Driver?

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Who's the Best Back Seat Driver?

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Who's the Best Back Seat Driver?

Who's the Best Back Seat Driver?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Melissa Block talks to Randy and Linda Burlison of Goreville, Ill. The pair took part in this morning's Blue Ox Back Seat Driver competition in Forest City, Iowa. They didn't do very well, but last year they came in third. The event — in which a driver races backward while blindfolded and instructed by the voice of a companion over an intercom — is in its eighth year. This year's winners were Eddie St. Angelo and J.R. Branson.


If you've ever been on the receiving end of instructions from a back seat driver, you might sympathize with the guy trying to follow these directions -

(Soundbite of radio squawking)

BLOCK: Well, save your sympathy. That's wife Linda Burlison providing instructions over a walkie-talkie to her husband Randy, and he needs her advice. After all, he's driving a big Class A Winnebago RV backwards and blindfolded.

The Burlisons were the first contenders in today's Eighth Annual Blue Ox Back Seat Driver Competition in Forest City, Iowa. Blue Ox refers to a hitching device on big rigs. The contest was part of a Winnebago rally.

Randy Burlison says the idea is to avoid hitting traffic cones along the course.

Mr. RANDY BURLISON (Blue Ox Back Seat Driver Competitor): You have to go through the cones in six minutes or less without knocking cones over, is the way you are scored.

BLOCK: Backwards, blindfolded.


BLOCK: And how long does that take?

Mr. BURLISON: Well, last year we did it in less than a minute. This year we just run over cones all over the place. We didn't do very well.

BLOCK: Oh, really? How many did you hit?

Mr. BURLISON: I don't know. My wife knows, I think. But I don't. I was driving so I really didn't have any idea.

BLOCK: What's the trick?

Mr. BURLISON: Just driving slow and listening to your wife. Maybe I wasn't doing that.

BLOCK: That's what she's told you, I bet.

Mr. BURLISON: She's liable to say that.

BLOCK: Is Linda there with you?


BLOCK: Could I talk to Linda for a second?


Mrs. LINDA BURLISON (Blue Ox Back Seat Driver Competitor): Hello.

BLOCK: Hi, Linda. How are you?

Mrs. BURLISON: I'm fine. How are you?

BLOCK: I'm okay. How did things go this morning, Linda?

Mrs. BURLISON: Not as well as we wanted it to.

BLOCK: And your husband seems to think that maybe that's because he wasn't listening to you quite as well as he should've been. What do you think?

Mrs. BURLISON: Well, I think maybe, we were the first one to do it and maybe we were just a little nervous. And he really wanted to increase the speed. But we'll practice and we'll be better next year.

BLOCK: How long is this course? How big is it?

Mrs. BURLISON: It's the length of the -

Mr. BURLISON: Half a football field.

Mrs. BURLISON: Oh, he's saying half a football field.

BLOCK: Half a football field. Okay. Blindfolded.

Mrs. BURLISON: And curvy.

BLOCK: Curvy. Okay. So you got this sort of serpentine thing. You're going backwards blindfolded - your husband is. Is this the kind of thing you can practice at home?

Mrs. BURLISON: Probably not. This is our third year and we say that every year we're going to go home and practice but we never do.

BLOCK: Well, it must be a big relief for Randy to get to take that blindfold off and go forward for a change.

Mrs. BURLISON: Yeah. They're all just kind of laughing at us. But we weren't the worst. We've not come in the last. Some of them hadn't even completed the course.

BLOCK: There are people who have done worse than you today then?

Mrs. BURLISON: Yeah.

BLOCK: Linda, can I talk to Randy again?

Mrs. BURLISON: Sure. Hold on.

Mr. BURLISON: Hello?

BLOCK: Hey, Randy.


BLOCK: Randy, how do you - when people ask you what happened this year, what are you going to tell them?

Mr. BURLISON: What am I going to tell them? Didn't get good instruction. You're trying to start an argument, aren't you?

BLOCK: No. I wouldn't dream of that. Well, better luck next year.

Mr. BURLISON: Well, thank you.

BLOCK: That's Linda and Randy Burlison of Goreville, Illinois. They took part in this morning's Blue Ox Back Seat Driver Competition in Forest City, Iowa. Last year they took third place. Didn't do so well this time around. This year's winners were the team of Eddie St. Angelo of Bristol, Rhode Island, and J.R. Branson of Forest Lake, Minnesota, the first time two men paired up for the competition. And, yes, sometimes a female member of a couple has driven the rig while the male plays the back seat driver. So far there hasn't been a female duo in the contest.

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