For Tennessee grand champion Phil Shelton, trucking runs in his blood.
Shelton, of Walmart Transportation, finished first in the tank truck class and won the grand champion title at Tennessee’s trucking championships April 27-28, earning his third trip to nationals.
With 38 years behind the wheel, Shelton, from Greeneville, Tenn., has racked up 3.5 million safety miles. Since a young age, Shelton, now 58, knew he wanted to be a trucker because of one person.
“It all started with my dad. He was a truck driver,” Shelton said. “That’s all I ever wanted to be and still do.”
Phil (left) and Stanley Shelton (Family photo)
Shelton not only attributes his love for trucking to his dad, Stanley Shelton, but his love for the tank truck class as well.
“Well I do have fond memories of when I was learning to drive with him. When I was 15 years old, he would let me drive his tank truck,” Shelton said. “That could be part of the reason that I like to compete with the tank class because he was a tanker driver.”
When Shelton was first learning to drive, his dad shared advice with him that he still follows on the road today.
“Just like not following too close, making sure you can stop before the vehicle in front of you does and just all kinds of different things,” Shelton said. “He was an excellent driver.”
While it may not be surprising that a driver with as much experience as Shelton would grab the grand champion title, Shelton hadn’t anticipated it.
“Well, it’s just a great honor to be able to participate in it, and I knew I had a good chance to win my class this year, but I was really surprised when they called me to be the grand champion of Tennessee,” Shelton said. “I wasn’t expecting that, and I consider it a great honor.”
Tennessee in Pictures
Since competing in his first state tournament in 2004, Shelton has strived to come back each year.
“It’s contagious. Once you’ve done it a few times, you want to do it more,” Shelton said. “Every year I try to do my best showing to make it back again.”
Shelton participates in a dry run event at Walmart’s terminal prior to the state championships.
“It’s a company-driven event to give the opportunity for safety managers and the drivers to have that conversation about safety,” Jeremy Snapp, the safety manager at Tennessee’s Trucking Association, said. “It provided camaraderie, and at the same time, we used it as an avenue to make sure safety is at the forefront of the conversation.”
The event also serves as a way to encourage drivers to compete at states and to identify the drivers that are serious competitors such as Shelton.
“He’s been a steadfast of the competition. He’s done very well over the years. Several second places, several third places. He’s not a rookie by any chance,” Snapp said. “He enjoys the competition. He’s not bashful either.”
Before Shelton leaves to compete at nationals, the Tennessee Trucking Association provides their winners with an opportunity to come together and prep for the written test.
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
“We’ll review the ‘Facts for Drivers 2018’ book this year and go over testing questions,” Snapp said. “Basically, it puts them all in the same room at the same time to work through preparatory work.”
As he heads to nationals, Shelton has just one goal.
“I just want to put my best foot forward there and make as good of a showing as possible, but if not, I just consider it a win to just be able to go to the competition because there’s a lot of other folks that did not get the opportunity whether they were in an accident in the last year or just not having a good day on the course,” Shelton said. “I feel honored and privileged to be able to have the chance to go compete and I consider that a win already.”
Shelton offers some advice for other drivers who are making their first trip to nationals.
“It’s to not get overwhelmed with the whole situation because the first time or two you go you don’t really know what to expect, but experience does help with that and you don’t let the pressure get to you once you’ve been to a few of them,” Shelton said. “You know what to look for.”
Other Tennessee winners that are headed to nationals are:
- Brian Hall of Old Dominion Freight Line in Sleeper Berth
- Brian Turner of Old Dominion Freight Line in 3-axle
- Michael Brewer of Old Dominion Freight Line in 4-axle
- Thomas Vandivort of Martin Brower in 5-axle
- James Sheehan of FedEx Ground in Straight Truck
- Juanita Overbay of FedEx Ground in Step Van
- Josh Dopp of UPS Freight in Flatbed
- Ronnie Hamill of FedEx Freight in Twins