PITTSBURGH — Forty-five of the nation’s top truck drivers have been named finalists in the 77th annual National Truck Driving Championships here.
They will compete Saturday for the top prize in each of nine divisions and for the grand championship — driving on a specially designed course that was unveiled only after they were named.
UPDATE, 10 p.m. ET:Jeffrey Langenhahn, a Con-way Freight professional truck driver based in Plover, Wis., was named the 2014 Bendix Grand Champion at the 77th annual National Truck Driving Championships
UPDATE, 10:30 p.m. ET: Event winners:
Straight Truck: Brendan Sharp, FedEx Freight (Henderson, Colo.)
Three-Axle: Basher Pierce, FedEx Freight (Sophia, N.C.)
Four-Axle: James Quarles, Wal-Mart Transportation LLC (Laurens, S.C.)
Five-Axle: Wayne Gootee, Wal-Mart Transportation (Brooklyn, Mich.)
Sleeper Berth Class: Matt Awbrey, Wal-Mart Transportation (Franklin, Ga.)
Twins: Jeffrey Langenhahn, Con-way Freight (Plover, Wis.)
Flatbed Class: Paul Brandon, FedEx Freight (Oxford, Conn.)
Tank Truck Class: Christopher Miller, United Petroleum Transportation (Cowetta, Okla.)
Step Van: Christopher Shaw, FedEx Express (Albuquerque, N.M.)
In all, 426 drivers from around the country competed this week in the NDTC, founded by American Trucking Associations.
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The 45 made the finalists list after three days of competition that included written testing, a pre-trip check contest and a driving contest, all of which tested drivers' knowledge of safety, equipment, the industry and their driving skills.
Among the finalists are 18 drivers representing FedEx, seven from Wal-Mart and four from Con-Way.
Drivers from a whopping 33 states are represented among the 45, with Wisconsin and Washington boasting three each.
For those named as finalists this morning, five each in each division, the news was a welcome surprise after three days of preliminary competition.
“I was very surprised; I didn’t think I drove very well; I didn’t feel good about anything,” said one of the finalists, Loren Hatfield of Maumelle, Arkansas, a driver for ABF Freight System Inc., who was waiting in the bullpen to take his turn in the final flatbed competition.
Eugene Budahazy of Hanover, Maryland, a Con-way Freight driver competing in the straight truck division made the finals in his first trip to the nationals.
“I’m a little nervous,” said Budahazy as he waited to go onto the floor for the final driving contest. “I’m just trying to relax . . . tell yourself, ‘You can do it,’ ” he said.
James Kohr of North Chili, New York, a FedEx Express driver also competing in the straight truck finals, said this year was the calmest he’s ever been.
“This is my third year in the nationals but I’ve been doing this since 2007 at the state level,” Kohr said. He also said, though, that the “reality is this is a very difficult competition.”
Getting to the finals “was a goal but it’s still a surprise,” said Christopher Shaw, a FedEx Express driver from Albuquerque, New Mexico, competing against four other FedEx driver finalists in the step van category.
One of them is Christy Tolbert of Richland Hills, Texas, the only woman finalist in any category this year. Tolbert is also a rookie, competing at the state and national championships for the first time.
“I really didn’t think that I would be here today,” said Tolbert. “This is an amazing surprise.”
She said her boss has been asking her for several years to enter the competition and she finally agreed.
At the end of the day, the winner in each division will be named along with the 2014 Bendix National Truck Driving Championships Grand Champion.
“The National Truck Driving Championships showcase the industry’s commitment to safety,” said ATA President Bill Graves. “I applaud all the competitors for their efforts in making our highways safe, and congratulate the finalists for demonstrating how a dedication to safe driving skills can make you a Champion.”
2014 National Truck Driving Championship Finalists (winners in italics)
Straight Truck Class
Eugene Budahazy, Con-way Freight, Maryland
Guy Frederickson, FedEx Ground, Wisconsin
James Kohr, FedEx Express, New York
Rene Molinary, FedEx Express, Florida
Brendan Sharp, FedEx Freight, Colorado
Paul Butkowski, FedEx Freight, Minnesota
Dwayne Heaverin, FedEx Express, Kentucky
Joseph Hicks, Con-way Freight, Rhode Island
Edward Pennington, FedEx Freight, Florida
Basher Pierce, FedEx Freight, North Carolina
Edward Carlson, FedEx Freight, Oregon
Roy Garcia, Peninsula Truck Lines, Inc., Washington
Dennis Litalien, Clifford W. Perham, Inc., Maine
Richard Lopardo, A. Duie Pyle, Inc., New Jersey
James Quarles, Walmart Transportation, LLC, South Carolina
Gary Bolen, The Boeing Company, Washington
Wayne Gootee, Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, Michigan
Richard Hill, Wal-Mart Transportation, New Hampshire
William Hill, Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., Idaho
Paul Waite, Friendly Ice Cream Corporation, Pennsylvania
Paul Brandon, FedEx Freight, Connecticut
Loren Hatfield, ABF Freight System, Inc., Arkansas
David Magee, FedEx Freight, Tennessee
Randall Stromlund, UPS, Nevada
Brian Walker, UPS Freight, North Carolina
Tank Truck Class
Donald Conklin, YRC Freight, Indiana
Kenneth Jones, Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, Arizona
James Kroschel, US Foods, Minnesota
Christopher Miller, United Petroleum Transports, Oklahoma
Gary Nickell, The Boeing Company, Washington
Erick Flick, FedEx Freight, Nevada
Jeffrey Langenhahn, Con-way Freight, Wisconsin
David Martinez, H-E-B, Texas
Jeffrey Payne, Reddaway, Utah
Xavier Theriot, FedEx Freight, Louisiana
Sleeper Berth Class
Matt Awbrey, Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, Georgia
Steve Elliston, Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, Michigan
Ralph Garcia, ABF Freight System, Inc., New Mexico
Bruce Gray, Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, Oregon
Andrew Rynearson, Con-way Freight, Wisconsin
Nick Frazier, FedEx Ground, Missouri
Gregory Long, FedEx Express, Virginia
Thomas Reinold, FedEx Express, Massachusetts
Christopher Shaw, FedEx Express, New Mexico
Christy Tolbert, FedEx Express, Texas