Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships

Bolduc, Daly Lead Field at National Truck Driving Championships

Experience, Preparation Cast Veteran Drivers as Favorites at 'Super Bowl of Safety'
Roland Bolduc (left) and Ina Daly
Roland Bolduc (left) and Ina Daly by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

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They make an intriguing pair of friendly rivals.

He is the affably charismatic reigning national champion. She is the astutely cerebral taskmaster.

His domain is center stage—the “big table,” as he describes it. Hers is solitude found only in the serenity of the driving course.

Although they differ in style and personality, FedEx Express’ Roland Bolduc and XPO’s Ina Daly have plenty in common: The two sexagenarians credit their fathers for a lifelong appreciation for trucking. They commenced their competitive precision-driving careers more than three decades ago. And they are widely recognized as premier competitors at the National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships.

This month, Bolduc and Daly will be among the more than 400 drivers from around the country ready to showcase their talents at American Trucking Associations’ 86th annual “Super Bowl of Safety” Aug. 16-19 in Columbus, Ohio.

After winning the sleeper berth vehicle class in Connecticut this summer, Bolduc will make his return to the summer classic as the defending national champion. In 2017 and 2022, Bolduc took home NTDC’s grand champion trophy.

Ina Daly with 2013 trophy

Daly with her 2013 national award in tank truck. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics) 

Daly, a consistent finalist at NTDC, is the only woman to have won a national title. In 2013, she took home top honors in the tanker truck division.

The pair of trucking virtuosos say they are ready for another opportunity to display their skills alongside colleagues and friends. They are in strong positions to each carve a path back to the winner’s podium. Betting on their formidable competitive qualities, experience is on their side.

For Bolduc, most weekends have been spent at his practice venue dubbed, “the Roadeo Research and Development Facility.” Outside of work and family commitments, preparing and studying dominated most of his Saturdays. A passionate ambassador of the tournament, he expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming event.

“It feels good to win again and to be going again, you know,” Bolduc said at his state tournament in June. “You never know your ticket is punched until you actually get it punched.”

“The truck driving championships means a lot to these drivers who have been around for quite a while,” he further emphasized.

Earlier this year Daly, who will once again compete in the tanker class, took home top honors at Arizona’s truck driving championships. Reflecting on the moment, she told TT the competition is ”about making you a better truck driver and making you proud of what you do for a living.”

Daly continued: “It’s very important that we share what we have learned over the years and try to get younger drivers involved. Because, like I said, ultimately it’s about improving safety, making truck drivers better, making people want to stay in the industry.”

The field

At NTDC, drivers will test their talents in nine vehicle classes as they pursue a national title. The best-in-show out of all the classes (i.e., straight, 3-axle, 4-axle, 5-axle, sleeper, tanker, twins, flatbed, step van) is awarded the overall Bendix Grand Champion trophy.

NTDC 2023

The Road to the 2023 National Truck Driving Championships

NTDC Qualifiers |  State Photo Gallery | Map of State Champions

Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level who have advanced to the national competition, where a Grand Champion will be crowned

What: Contestants are judged on a written exam, pre-trip inspection and driving skills

When: Aug. 16-19

Where: Columbus, Ohio

Joining Bolduc and Daly on a quest for a national title is a cadre of elite drivers. Other top drivers to watch at NTDC include Rhode Island’s Joe Hicks with XPO and Wisconsin’s Jeffrey Langenhan with XPO. Langenhan earned grand champion status in 2014. Additional top challengers include Oregon’s Dan Shamrell with FedEx Freight, Connecticut’s Anthony Spero with ABF Freight, Colorado’s Paul Swan with FedEx Freight, Louisiana’s Eric Courville with FedEx Freight, North Carolina’s Michael Bills with FedEx Express and New Jersey’s Lorenso Ramos with XPO.

“A lot of people underestimate me or sometimes people tell me, ‘I don’t think you can do that,’ and I always prove them wrong because I really work hard,” Ramos told TT soon after his grand champion performance in the Garden State in June. He qualified for nationals in the straight truck division.

“I think with the dedication and the practice that I put it on my weekends, on my time… I prepare myself pretty well for [NTDC],” explained Swan, the Centennial State’s grand champion in the 3-axle truck.

Spero credited God for granting him the fortitude to surpass Bolduc and other peers en route to a grand champion performance at the Constitution State this summer. He competed in the tanker division. As last year’s recipient of the national tournament’s Neill Darmstadter Professional Excellence Award, Spero told TT he intends to “hit it hard” at NTDC “just like I practiced for [states].”

“[NTDC] is a state of mind year-round for me,” Shamrell told TT. He won grand champion in the Beaver State competing in the 4-axle. Like Spero, he also is a recipient of the tournament’s professional excellence award. “It’s kind of like a very intense focus on safety and it’s a great reminder. And can you imagine if everybody had that same intense focus for safety on the road. We’d have some great roads out there.”

This year, the tournament will feature nine women competitors, two shy of the record for most women set in 2014 and tied in 2022. In addition to Daly, Massachusetts’ Karen Tierney with FedEx Express qualified in the 3-axle class. After winning her division at the state competition, Tierney exclaimed, “I’m going to nationals!” An NTDC fixture since the 1990s, her game plan leading up to nationals is as simple as it gets: “Studying and practicing.”

NTDC organizing committee chairman Rodney Myers with FedEx Freight touted the contributions of this year’s qualifiers. In addition to winning their vehicle class at state tournaments, competitors also must maintain a yearlong accident-free driving record.

“I just want to wish every one of them the best of luck, regardless of if they place first in their class or last in their class. That’s not what it’s about,” he said. “It’s about the representation that they do on a daily basis, the service that they provide to all these carriers on a daily basis, and our impact on the industry as a whole.”

Format revived

For the tournament itself, Myers is planning to enhance the audience experience as well as continue to embrace normalcy. Last year marked the tournament’s in-person return after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By meeting in person, Myers anticipates a display of enthusiasm from colleagues, volunteers and attendees. “This year, everything will shift back to the normal pattern. So the competition will start on Wednesday. They’ll drive Thursday and Friday, and then the finals on Saturday,” Myers affirmed, adding the award ceremony will be a little more traditional as a banquet-type event.

In the competition, professional drivers must accumulate points during the first two days. Points stem from a written examination of federal rules and regulations, acuity during a vehicle safety inspection known as a pre-trip and their precision maneuvers on a timed obstacle course. On the third day, the top five performers from each class advance to a final round. The top drivers in each class after the finals are awarded a national title. The grand champion blue ribbon is awarded to the event’s exemplar.

NTDC spectators

Spectators at NTDC 2022 in Indianapolis. Fans tend to group in cheering sections by trucking company. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

About 3,000 attendees are expected at the upcoming safety celebration. Family, friends and fans of the tournament are encouraged to stick around for the competition’s duration. Rick Cates, a lifetime member of NTDC’s organizing committee, explained crowds provide invaluable support for competitors. “We encourage the families and the company representatives to come and support their contestants and be in the stands on the finals on Saturday,” he said.

Concurrent with the NTDC tournament, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance will host its North American Inspectors Championship, or NAIC. The inspectors challenge consists of law enforcement standouts testing their knowledge and expertise of commercial transportation rules and regulations. Similar to NTDC, an overall winner, as well as top performers from across various individual categories, will be crowned.

“NAIC was created to recognize inspectors and officers — the backbone of the commercial vehicle safety program in North America — and to promote uniformity of inspections through training and education,” according to background information about the event.

Officials from ATA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, freight firms, and state agencies and associations are scheduled to attend the nationals. Sponsors include Amazon Freight Partner, UPS, ABF Freight, FedEx, Old Dominion Freight Line, Pitt Ohio, PrePass, DHL, Walmart, XPO, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems and R.B. Stewart Petroleum Products Inc.

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