Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships
July 19, 2018 6:30 PM, EDT

First Time’s the Charm for Alaska Grand Champion Ryan Wolcoff

Alaska Grand Champion Ryan Wolcoff holds winner's checkAlaska Grand Champion Ryan Wolcoff holds winner's check (Lupine Photography)

The saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Ryan Wolcoff, a truck driver for SPAN Alaska, won’t have to put that idiom into practice. He succeeded on the first try.

Despite never having participated in Alaska’s annual truck driving championships before, Wolcoff won the 3-axle class and the grand champion title May 18-19, earning the rookie competitor a trip to nationals.

“I was shocked that I took my division and I was even more shocked that I won overall grand champion, so it was a good experience and kind of showed me where I stand and what I learned and gained in knowledge over the years,” said Wolcoff, 45, from Anchorage, Alaska. “It kind of validated what I’ve been doing for this amount of time and that I’m really good at it.”

Wolcoff said he had been driving for nearly 20 years before deciding to compete in the truck driving championships. He got his start years ago working at a scale house for a gravel company.

“The drivers told me, ‘You’re doing the same hours as us. You might as well make more money.’ That made sense, so I decided to get my CDL,” Wolcoff said.

Once he decided to compete this year, Wolcoff stuck to a class he knew.

“At my work now, I drive a single screw and usually pull a lot of 28-foot trailers. I hadn’t competed before and I figured I would just go in a class that I feel comfortable with,” Wolcoff said. “Although I’ve driven a variety of tractor-trailers throughout my almost 20 years, normally I drive 3-axle Monday through Friday for work.”

Even though he was comfortable with 3-axle, Wolcoff faced other challenges, such as driving the course for the first time.

“For me, the written test was difficult, but I didn’t study enough for that. I know I can do better on that. Then, for the driving course, having new goals like trying to get as close to objects for points as possible. Normally, I’m trying to stay away from everything when I’m driving, so I was kind of doing the reverse,” Wolcoff said.

Road to NTDC logo

The Road to the National Truck Driving Championships

Qualifiers | Map | Photos | Video

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

As he prepares for nationals in Columbus, Ohio, Aug. 15-18, Wolcoff has been brushing up on the “2018 ATA’s Facts for Drivers” and his CDL handbook.

Between studying and practicing his driving skills, Wolcoff hopes to accomplish one goal.

“When I talked with American Trucking Associations up here, they said they haven’t had any drivers place in third place or higher,” Wolcoff said. “I would like to be the first driver from the state of Alaska to at least place in the top three in my division.”

As he’s proven, there is a first time for everything.

Other Alaska winners that are headed to nationals are:

  • Brian Ambrose of Alaska West Express in Sleeper Berth
  • Brad Hinkes of Carlile Transportation Systems in 4-axle
  • Doug Longerbone of Lynden Transport in 5-axle
  • Jeremiah Payne of American Fast Freight in Tank Truck
  • Muku Afusia of FedEx Freight in Straight Truck
  • Madeleine Vea of FedEx Express in Step Van
  • Todd Wheeler of American Fast Freight in Flatbed