An off-roading competition saluting active duty military and veterans and featuring a woman with enough Oildale grit to possibly take home the $10,000 prize? That’s “Truck Night in America,” and an episode featuring a former Bakersfield resident airs Thursday on the History Channel.
Sharleen Ciesielska, 41, said she was encouraged by friends to apply to the show that challenges five drivers who go head to head in personal customized trucks or Jeeps in three increasingly challenging obstacles.
"I've seen the show before," Ciesielska said. "I've watched them destroy the rigs on the first season."
After going through the application process, including a video interview, she was told she was selected for an episode in the show's second season.
Stationed in Millington, Tenn., where she is a petty officer first class in the Navy, Ciesielska is an avid off-roader. She drives a Jeep XJ, which she describes as the "poor man's Jeep."
"In a Jeep club, it's the red-headed stepchild, a stock Jeep with $500 lift kit."
"We built this Jeep," she said of the work she and her son did. "I only had it 10 months before I went on the show. All the upgrades, what you see is what you get."
Born in Fort Ord, then a U.S. Army base, Ciesielska and her family eventually moved to Bakersfield where she attended Beardsley Elementary and North High. Interested in pursuing a military career, she enlisted at age 16, with her parents' consent, and went in after graduating early at 17.
She served for eight years then took an eight-year break to raise her five children. Ciesielska re-enlisted in 2011, going between Millington, then Washington, D.C., before returning to Tennessee.
Ciesielska is involved with a number of off-road clubs including Vamped Off-Road, DeSoto County Jeep Club and Mid South Jeep, for which she serves as secretary. The sense of community is strong and a number of watch parties are planned for Thursday night.
That includes on the West Coast. Although she moved from Bakersfield years ago, she has returned to visit friends including Lea Gann, whom she's known since the sixth grade.
"From the very first day she introduced herself and we were friends," Ciesielska said. "Her family was my family."
Family keeps Ciesielska active in the off-roading community.
"My daughter is involved; she has an older Jeep. My son and I are involved. I am a mom of five and I have my second grandbaby on the way. It's my family, my kids get involved."
Last summer she hitched up the rig she and her son built to her Ford F350 dually, Buford — named because he's a "beautiful Ford" — and headed south to Augusta, Ga., where filming took place.
Although it looks like it occurs over a day, Ciesielska said it took a week to film.
She competed against four men, either active duty or military veterans.
Ciesielska couldn't share the results of the show but the fact she recently bought a house got tongues wagging.
"They said, you probably won because you bought a house.' I said, 'With the military you can get VA loans.'
"I'm keeping everybody in suspense."
Whether she takes home the $10,000 prize Thursday or not, she has a plan for the future.
"I want to build a shop here on my property, have it as a open place where women can come and get (off-road) training, learn how do you do this. Where you don’t have to pay. Just bring me some food or bring me some beer."