COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s 3 p.m. at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, and about two dozen people who’ve been patiently waiting for competitors in the National Truck Driving Championships to complete their walk-through of the course are finally permitted to file into the massive exhiblt hall and toward the viewing area.
Soon, they’ll begin hanging banners that pronouce the loyalties of those seated in the stands.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level have advanced to the national competition, where a grand champion will be crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills
When: Aug. 15-18
Where: Columbus, Ohio
XPO Logistics Director of Safety Michael Gardner is among them. He’s been waiting to get into the massive room for more than two hours. Gardner and his colleague, Rick Spitz, a district safety manager for XPO Logistics, arrived at 12:45 p.m. to stake out a spot in line. Their banner, plain white with the company’s logo on it, is meant to represent the 27 drivers XPO Logistics has sent to the competition.
“You go for the center spot so you can see both courses,” Gardner, who has been coming to NTDC for the past six years, told Transport Topics. “Our drivers will be split between different courses.”
The banners will go on the railings that line the back of the stands. The Ohio Trucking Association’s banner, secured at the center of the railings, is the only one hanging before 3 p.m. because the association was given preference since it is hosting the championships.
Those waiting in line represent a mix of trucking companies and state trucking associations. Cheryl Hosier, manager of safety administration for Arkansas-based ABF Freight and Tonya Mars, a representative of the Arkansas Trucking Association, were in line waiting to hang a banner. They arrived at about 1:45 p.m.
Hosier said ABF Freight has 18 drivers represented. Besides a company banner, she also hung banners depicting the faces of each driver at the hotel where they are staying.
“You got to get in line early to get a banner hung,” Hosier said. “We just like to be front and center. Doesn’t every company want that?”
Duane Williams, director of employee relations for UPS Freight, has the same idea as Gardner and Hosier. Although he got in line about the same time as them, he’s several places back. He said he wants to be “right in the center” to represent the 26 drivers UPS Freight has sent.
Banner bearers line up at NTDC at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, waiting to have their finest unfurled. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)
Event coordinators usher the banner bearers onto the floor and escort them, one by one, to the bleachers. Two men then confer with the supporters and carry their banners to their desired locations.
Emily Crane, director of events and member services at Georgia Motor Trucking Association, joined the line after monitoring the course as a judge during the walk-through. GMTA has eight drivers at NTDC, each one a repeat contestant. Crane said the banner, which bears the names of every driver, is bigger than last year’s sign.
“We show them a little love while they’re here,” Crane said. “We’re happy to be here.”
Banners in their places ahead of the competition at the convention center. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)
The banner placement is over within 40 minutes, handled by staff at the event. XPO Logistics and the Arkansas groups’ banners hang on either side of the Ohio Trucking Association’s.
Hosier said the 90-person crowd that usually comes to support ABF Freight will appreciate the presence.
“It’s worth the wait,” Hosier said. “Our ABF drivers have an entourage of supporters up there for them. They love it.”
The UPS Freight banner is among the last to go up and hangs more to the side of the stands, nearer to the course entrance. Although Williams acknowledged that the placement was not his first choice, he said the supporters still will bring their usual gusto to the event.
“We [would’ve] preferred a better spot, but we got what we got. We’re going to be good. The champions are jazzed,” Williams said. “We’re very excited. They live, breathe and sleep truck driving championship.”