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August 10, 2017 5:45 PM, EDT
Having Trouble Hearing at NTDC? Blame Wal-Mart’s Fans
Wal-Mart fans at 2017 NTDC Eugene Mulero/Transport Topics

ORLANDO, Fla. — Every time a Wal-Mart driver hopped inside a truck, drove around the rubber duckies and maneuvered past obstacles, you could hear, “Give me a ‘W!’ Give me an ‘A!’ ” until the driver’s family and friends spelled out the company’s name.

The cheer was constant at the National Truck Driving Championships, where Wal-Mart drivers are favorites for taking top honors at an event that features competition from FedEx Freight, XPO Logistics and UPS Inc., among others. Wal-Mart driver Charles “Mike” White was last year’s grand champion.

Dozens of them, scattered across the stands at the Orange County Convention Center, cheered as loud as they could for the Wal-Mart team. The fanatics applauded all aspects of the competition, at times managing to be louder than the announcers on the sound system.

Complete 2017 NTDC Coverage

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PHOTO GALLERY: All of the pageantry from Orlando | Winners

VIDEO: Day One | Day Two | Championship Day |  Bumper Cam | Sights and Sounds | ELD update

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Aside from the white or royal purple apparel, the Wal-Mart superfans wore colorful rubber ducky necklaces and trinkets that paid tribute to the course’s iconic prop. At the nationals, drivers must pull up their vehicles — sleeper berths, twins, 5-axles, etc. — as close as possible to a rubber ducky without hitting it. The judges switch up the course every year.

Mars by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

Tonya Mars is Wal-Mart’s cheermaster at nationals. The wife of Gary Mars, who competed in the sleeper berth class on Aug. 10, she assembled the rubber ducky necklaces, handed them out to everybody in her group, gathered them together to synchronize their cheers and ensured drivers notice the love directed at them from the stands. She also kept a scorecard to share with other spouses and the drivers.

“I just throw them together,” Mars told Transport Topics about the trinkets, after downplaying her role in the competition. Asked what she enjoyed best about watching the drivers tackle the course, she said, twice, “All of it.”

“She’s in it 190%. She lives and breathes it,” Dee Long, Tonya’s friend and fellow die-hard superfan, explained. Long’s husband, Johnnie Long, also competed in the sleeper berth class. The Longs are from Louisiana, and it was Johnnie’s first trip to nationals. “She does this because she loves it.”

Wal-Mart’s Richard Prescott, a road captain with the company, also credited Mars for her dedication and spreading the team spirit. She is the glue keeping the superfans together and making the drivers feel the much-deserved sense of accomplishment, he said.