They say you never work a day in your life if you do what you love.
For one truck driver in particular, this couldn’t be any closer to the truth.
Walmart Transportation’s Ken Duncan, who won Maine’s grand champion title May 19 at the Maine Truck Driving Championships, has a passion for truck driving.
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Duncan finished first in Straight Truck, earning him a third trip to nationals. He previously competed at nationals in 2013 in Tank Truck and in 2016 in Flatbed.
Duncan, now 54, doesn’t recall ever wanting to be anything but a truck driver. “I can’t remember not loving trucks,” Duncan said.
His exposure to trucking through his father, Griffin “Ken” Duncan, and neighbor, Otis Fletcher, stoked his passion at a young age, growing up in Norfolk, Va. Duncan’s father was a truck technician and engine builder and Fletcher was a truck owner and operator. Both have been heroes to Duncan throughout his life.
“The two of them helped me have exposure to and enjoy trucks very early on,” Duncan said. “And it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
One memory especially stands out.
“My dad was the expert engine builder that used to take me in on Saturday mornings when he was going to test-drive a truck and let me have a little taste of the bug that had bit me so early,” Duncan said.
Ken Duncan (left) with his dad, Griffin Duncan (Courtesy of Ken Duncan)
Duncan went on to become a truck driver in 1981 and an owner-operator from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. For part of that period, Duncan had a steady haul from New Hampshire to Texas. Once, when his dad happened to have a convention to attend in Texas, Duncan brought him along in his truck, providing time for them to reminisce about the days when Duncan’s dad would take him to work.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level advance to the national competition, with a grand champion crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills
When: Aug. 15-18
Where: Columbus, Ohio
“That was a sweet trip,” Duncan said.
Duncan now has racked up about 3.6 million safety miles. The safety aspect of the truck driving championships makes Duncan appreciate his qualification even more.
“To be able to show up at that venue and compete is a humbling honor, and then when you are fortunate enough to win, you feel like you’ve won some kind of lottery,” Duncan said. “You know you are amongst the most blessed people in trucking because if you’ve been to nationals like I have, you know you’re about to have an experience that changes your life and creates memories that are etched into your mind forever. It’s a really precious thing to get to be a part of.”
When it comes to preparing for the championships, Duncan is all about camaraderie. Duncan will schedule opportunities to practice with competitors and his mentor, Jon Brockway.
Brockway was a former full-time member of Walmart’s road team and is an ATA America’s Road Team captain.
Ken Duncan (left) with mentor Jon Brockway (Courtesy of Ken Duncan)
“He’s been kind enough to coach and mentor me a bit,” Duncan said. “He’s a great pre-trip coach, and I enjoy what he brings to the table very much.”
In his spare time, Duncan also studies the “2018 ATA’s Facts for Drivers” book and integrates little aspects of skills into his everyday work, such as using lines in concrete as stop lines.
While Duncan is excited to compete against other drivers that he dubs the “knights of the highway,” he is even more grateful for the opportunity to compete.
“I want to thank everyone from the board room at ATA to the volunteers at every state competition for making this thing happen, because I think it’s one of the most brilliant safety initiatives ever undertaken that takes a lot of people and a lot of goodwill and a lot of resources,” Duncan said. “It has a positive impact on the drivers and their families, and I’m grateful to everyone that makes it happen. They’re the heroes — the people that make this happen.”
Other Maine winners who are going to nationals in Columbus, Ohio, Aug.15-18 are:
- Lester Lord of FedEx Freight in 3-axle
- Vince Cote of Hannaford Transportation in 4-axle
- Josh White of Lynch Logistics in 5-axle
- Ray Bucknell of Irving Oil Terminals in Flatbed
- Christopher Gooden of Richard Carrier Trucking in Sleeper
- Ronald Round of Pottle’s Transportation in Tank Truck
- Mark Scalpen of FedEx Freight in Twins
- Robert Cochran of FedEx Express in Step Van