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John Teller: Diesel truck mechanic, Olympian

Mon, 07 Oct 2013

Sorting through the cable listings, trying to pick out which of the six million events to watch in the winter Olympics this February, you can be forgiven if you find the sheer volume overwhelming. Who knows the difference between the two-man luge and the biathlon? No one does, that's who. So we're here to help. We have sifted through all the U.S. Olympians and found the ones who truly matter to you, the Autoweek reader -- namely, the U.S. Olympians who are car guys and girls. We'll present them one by one over the next few weeks until the opening ceremonies at Sochi, Russia in February, 2014.

John Teller grew up in the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. His dad owns Mammoth's sole Chevron station and his uncle owns the Alpine Garage in town. Despite training 200 days a year on the slopes and working out in the gym the rest of the time, Teller works full time at one or the other, even when training.

“What can I say, it's in our blood,” he told Autoweek.

Teller's event is skicross, a sport introduced at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Skicross is like a combination of roller derby, demolition derby and, occasionally, flying -- all on skis. Four guys line up at the top of a crazy destructo-derby course, and when the gate drops, down they all plummet through twists, turns and convolutions on a run better suited to a pinball than to skiing. So we figured it'd be like a Cup race at Bristol.

“I don't watch NASCAR much, but I really like off-road racing, like Baja truck races,” Teller told us. “Skicross and NASCAR are similar because of the drafting factor and the quick moves you have to make to advance in position.”

It's not unlike the style he and his friends employed coming down Mammoth's many runs growing up.

“The fun part of it is the jumping and the close-quarters skiing with your good friends,” he told the website. “Even my competitors on the world cup tour, obviously, when the gate drops, there's really not any friends on the course, but we're all friends afterward."

Teller came to skicross after a friend suggested it to him. He had burned out trying to make the U.S. Alpine team and was working in the garage.

“It made me realize why I fell in love with skiing so many years ago,” he said.

It has turned out to be a good career move. Three years ago he got his first bronze on the skicross world cup circuit at a race in Italy. Two years ago he won his first world cup event outright with a victory in St. Johann, Austria. He has finished as high as fourth for the season in world cup and won another event this year. He has four world cup medals so far, as well as a host of other victories. Now he is concentrating on making the Olympic team, but still working on cars, trucks, SUVs and the occasional snowmobile.

“We work on everything," he said. " If I ever get to own my own shop one day, I'll be well prepared.”

His daily driver is a Ram 2500 pickup with a Cummins diesel underhood.

“I own that truck and it's proven as one of the most reliable engines out there,” he told us. “Gets me out in the hills to hunt, and across the country to ski race!”

He has already picked out his dream car, should he make it really big in skiing and maybe garner some endorsements.

“'67 Mustang GT fastback, the Eleanor car from 'Gone in Sixty Seconds'.”

To watch Teller on his road to Sochi, click here. In the meantime, if you have car trouble or need gas in Mammoth, you know where to go.

By Mark Vaughn