The course walkthrough on the final round of the 81st National Truck Driving Championships on Aug. 18 in Columbus, Ohio, consisted of 45 men and one woman.
Old Dominion Freight Line’s Dawn Cochran of Indiana in the 5-Axle, a first-time competitor at nationals, was the sole female driver to advance to the tournament’s prestigious last round.
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Cochran ultimately would not place in the top three in the 5-Axle. Still, she expressed gratitude for the chance to join her peers in the industry’s highest profile safety competition. Her goal, she explained, is to continue to find her way back to the nationals. And, perhaps one day, take home the top prize.
“We all have to do the same thing. So, if it’s easy for me, it’s easy for him, it’s easy for her. You just have to be better at it,” Cochran told Transport Topics. “So, I mean, that’s the goal, ‘cause everybody here can do it. It’s just who happens to bring it that day.”
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
To determine the national title winners, the top five drivers from each of the nine classes face off on the tournament’s final day. This year, six drivers in the Twins class advanced to the finals. The tournament also entails a written exam as well as a pre-trip inspection. Drivers with the highest combined scores in the three disciplines win their vehicle class.
Cochran’s presence, especially in the final leg of the championship, was inspirational. The tournament traditionally consisted of male drivers.
Event organizer Brian Lagana, executive director of American Trucking Associations’ Safety Management Council and Transportation Security Council, said in recent years more female drivers are qualifying for the national tournament. Especially rewarding this year, Lagana added, was seeing Cochran advance to the finals in the 5-Axle class. Her presence helped to spotlight the significance of diversity.
“Contrary to popular belief, the National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships aren’t a good old boys club.’ The number of female competitors has increased each year, reflecting the ever-increasing diversity and true progressive nature of the trucking industry,” Lagana told TT. “The trucking industry truly is something, and has something, for everyone.”
Cochran’s husband, Steve, also a driver at Old Dominion, led a cheering section in the bleachers during the final round. He acknowledged there is a male-centric driver culture, but noted his wife is among the new faces in the industry.
Dawn Kerr, a driver for 35 years and one of the nine women to compete at NTDC. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
“She’s been doing it for 20-plus years. So this is not anything new to her,” Steve Cochran said. “So being the only female [competing in the finals], she’s OK. She’s good.”
California’s Dawn Kerr, a driver for 35 years currently with FedEx Express, also competed in 5-Axle. Like Cochran, this year was her first time at nationals. Also, she, too, benefited from having an encouraging spouse in her corner.
Her husband, also with FedEx, had competed in the state qualifier this summer and had urged her to try out for the tournament. Ultimately, Kerr advanced to nationals and her husband did not.
“He was all motivated because he got first [in the regional qualifier]. So I said, ‘Well, I go and support him.’ And then I won. He didn’t quite make it,” she said. “So that could’ve been really awkward you know, ‘cause I gotta live with him, but on the other hand, he was so excited.”
Stephanie Henderson, another one of the nine women to compete at NTDC, drives for Standlee Hay Trucking in Idaho. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Karen Tierney of FedEx Express in Rhode Island and Stephanie Henderson of Standlee Hay Trucking in Idaho competed in the 5-Axle category as well. For Henderson, the written exam proved easier than the course. Regarding the pre-trip inspection, she said, “I think I missed a few things but there’s always next year to do that.”
New Mexico’s state Grand Champion Loretta Bruyere of FedEx Freight competed in the Twins. About nationals, she said, “It’s amazing. It’s overwhelming.”
The other female competitors included Ina Daly of XPO Logistics in Arizona in Tank Truck, Juanita Overbay of FedEx Ground in Tennessee in Step Van, and FedEx Express drivers Madeline Vea of Alaska, and Sharon Collet of North Dakota, also in step van.
Daly, who was this year’s Arizona grand champion, won Tank at nationals in 2013.
Tierney, Daly and Collet were among the five women to compete at last year’s nationals, which were held in Orlando, Fla. That roster also included Rebecca Nelson of FedEx Express in Alaska, competing in Straight Truck, and Mary Motter of FedEx Freight in Colorado in 4-Axle.