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August 9, 2017 5:30 PM, EDT
Confident Rookies, Veterans Review Course on NTDC’s First Day
Drivers at NTDC 2017 John Sommers II for Transport Topics

ORLANDO, Fla. — Miguel “Mikey” Corral, a FedEx Freight driver making his second appearance at a National Truck Driving Championship, intends to be repetitive and consistent during the next few days of competition.

Corral explained he has come up with a system that has allowed him to stay accident-free for the past year. Not deviating from his preparation and safety habits could pay off, he said.

“I’m going to try to keep with my routine. That’s what got me here, doing my safety procedures,” Corral told Transport Topics on Aug. 9, just moments before the championships’ written exam portion. “Keep it how I do it, same way every day.”

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The Illinois-based Corral acknowledged that competing alongside drivers with more than a decade of national-level experience is humbling.

Daryl Fowler, a Vermont-based driver with FedEx Freight, is a rookie at nationals. A competitor in the step van category, Fowler said he has realized patience and driving slowly on the course are keys during the four-day contest at the Orange County Convention Center.

“Pay attention to your surroundings, be positive, confident,” Fowler said, when asked about his game plan.

Rookie Melvin Andrews with YRC Freight out of Arkansas said he already has learned new safety tips and is excited about meeting drivers from around the country. The national stage lends itself to camaraderie, said Andrews, who is competing in the straight truck class.

Corral, Fowler and Andrews are among the 35 first-timers competing in the 80th annual event, known better as the “Super Bowl of Safety.” In all, 428 drivers from around the country are vying for the title of Grand Champion as well as the top spot in their class, which includes sleeper berth, 3- to 5-axles and flatbed. The step van drivers compete in a tournament that coincides with the trucking championships.

Utah’s Alvin Kippin with Wal-Mart is on his 10th trip to nationals. He noted the convention center’s expansive space, with its high ceiling and bright lights, will help the drivers. The skills portion of the competition tests a driver’s precision in tight spaces.

“They’ve done a good job setting this course up and the equipment,” Kippen said. “[Nationals] peeks out the season and the competition. And I think it’s been worked out very well.”

Prior to the course’s walk-through, drivers were briefed on the challenges they’ll undertake as well as the rules. Among the words of caution: Do not have a cellphone during the competition and sit properly inside the vehicles. The event, hosted by American Trucking Associations, is a venue for families and friends to cheer truckers.

Kevin Burch, president of Ohio-based Jet Express Inc. and ATA’s chairman, stressed the significance of celebrating truckers’ “skill and commitment to safety.”

“This competition puts drivers in the spotlight,” Burch said. “And brings attention to their daily excellence.”