By Aaron Ladage
On a normal day, OOIDA member Tony Pennello's job duties include getting blown up, being set on fire, and racing his truck at breakneck speeds down crowded city streets.
OK - so the word "normal" doesn't really apply to the day-to-day operations of a trucker like Pennello.
When he's not running custom motorcycles across the country in his fire-red-and-flames Kenworth W900, the Corona, CA, native earns his paycheck as a Hollywood stuntman.
But Pennello isn't just a stuntman. He's a really, really good stuntman - good enough to win an award at this year's Taurus World Stunt Awards for Best Specialty Stunt.
The award-winning stunt was for a high-speed chase scene from the movie "Taxi," starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. In the scene, Pennello, along with fellow OOIDA member Gil Combs, each drove a tractor-trailer at high speeds while two cars zoomed between them.
"We were doing a head-on with three cars that were traveling about 50 miles an hour, and we were at 40 miles an hour, and what they did was passed in between the two of us," Pennello said. "The blue-ribbon committee . elected our team of 10 people as the winner of the award."
This is Pennello's first major stunt award, but it's certainly not his first time working as a stuntman on a film. In addition to television shows such as "Nash Bridges," "Felicity," "Days of Our Lives," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Married with Children," his resume also includes work on dozens of feature films, including "Rush Hour," "Eraser," "Money Train," "Speed" and "Castaway."
However, Pennello's most recent work has been for a more personal cause. After finding out that a close friend and customer was involved in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, he coordinated with a stunt coordinator in the area to help deliver emergency supplies to the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast.
"I had a customer of mine down there that got pretty much wiped out, so I called him up and asked what he needed," Pennello said. "Before we knew it, we had a truckload of stuff going down to Slidell, Louisiana."
With help from numerous civic groups and individuals, Pennello said he was able to deliver chain saws, axes, work lights, water, and children's toys and other supplies to people who were in desperate need of help.
Back in California, Pennello said he enjoys stunt work because it's a unique challenge every day, and gives him the opportunity to work with creative directors and stunt coordinators who are willing to try out very creative ideas.
But one of his biggest passions is teaching the public how to drive around large trucks. For several years, he's been seeking funding for a series of short films that highlight truck safety issues, and plans to air the films as previews in movie theaters.
"As crazy as it looks on television or in the movies, (stunts) are very well thought out, and every effort is used to be safe, so everybody - the stunt performer, the camera crew - is safe," Pennello said. "You see a few television commercials and billboards now that promote truck safety, telling them the safe places to go and not to go around the truck.
"But I believe the best way to hit this stuff is to actually get people involved, and movie theaters are a great way to do this."