Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships
August 16, 2018 6:00 PM, EDT

NTDC Competitors Meet Their Match on Challenging Driving Course

NTDC ball courseDrivers had to maneuver through a row of tennis balls. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A sharp left turn to cross over five scoring zones after avoiding a rubber duck and then maneuvering through a row of tennis balls were among the problems tripping up many competitors on the first day on the course at the National Truck Driving Championships.

PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes From NTDC 2018 

The course also included a freight door (reverse) stop, a passenger-side curb continuous motion drill, and a diminishing front stop for a total of six challenges. Drivers were tasked with maneuvering their vehicles with screaming fans in the background, judges timing their performance, and most of them knowing they still had to complete a pre-trip inspection at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

On Aug. 16, competitors in the 3-axle, 4-axle, tanker and flatbed divisions sought to score big, yet for the most part came up short.

Joseph Hicks

Rhode Island Grand Champion Joseph Hicks. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

For Joseph Hicks of XPO Logistics, Rhode Island’s Grand Champion competing in the 3-axle class, the left turn driver-side curb challenge that led to the straight line marked by tennis balls was unpleasant.

“You know what, it was a lot tougher than I thought on the course. It looked like a wide-open course, but when you get into a vehicle that you’re not used to driving, a lot of the perspective changes. And it got me a little more than I thought,” Hicks said. “I definitely feel like I could’ve done a lot better.”

“It was not overly difficult, but it was challenging enough. It wasn’t real technical but the setup was crucial,” added Daniel Patterson, a 4-axle driver for FedEx Freight and Arkansas’ Grand Champion. Like Hicks, he too met his match on the left-turn driver-side curb challenge.

California’s Grand Champion, Hobie Eirich of FedEx Freight, driving a 4-axle, said the left turn surprised him as well.

Hobie Eirich

California Grand Chamption Hobie Eirich. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“I would say the hardest one was that back left side there, ’cause if you don’t get that trailer lined up just right, yeah, you’re going to cut it short,” Eirich explained. “That’s what I ended up doing, was I cut it too short. But, you know, some days are better than others.”

For New Jersey’s Carlose London, that state’s Grand Champion from XPO Logistics competing in the 4-axle, the freight door reverse stop was his Achilles’ heel. He banged the barrier, resulting in no points on the challenge. And, overall, he said he was not pleased with his run.

NTDC 2018 logo

The 2018 National Truck Driving Championships

Qualifiers | Map | Photos | Video

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

The 2012 national Grand Champion, Don Logan of FedEx Freight, was not thrilled with his showing either. However, a strong performance on the written exam and pre-trip inspection may propel him to the finals Aug. 18, he said.

“I felt OK. I knew it would be a tough course and I try to get points where I thought I could but just like any course, when you walk it, it’s so much different when you’re sitting in the seat,” said Logan, Kansas’ grand champion competing in the tanker class. “You know, some of the problems that I thought were going to be harder weren’t, and the ones that I thought were going to be easier were tougher.”

Observers said the course’s small layout would likely result in low scores. Yet, for a few competitors, the first day wasn’t all bad. UPS’ David Sharp, driving in the 3-axle out of Nevada, said he was content with his performance.

“I feel like I had an above-average day. I mean, I don’t think I did terrible. We’ll see what happens in the written test when the scores come out. I know I missed two or three of those. But my pre-trip [inspection] was good until I ran out of time. So, I mean I was busy finding stuff, so that was a good feeling,” Sharp said.

David Misenheimer

David Misenheimer of Connecticut. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“I felt really good this year. Normally, I’m nervous and don’t feel really great about it, but this year I actually feel really good about it. I feel like I did a good job,” added David Misenheimer of Connecticut. A Domino’s Pizza driver, he competed in the 3-axle. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Every time I got butterflies in my stomach. I’m scared when I don’t, ’cause then I’ll probably be too cocky and I won’t do well. So I like being nervous, having that, ‘Oh my God’ feeling.”

On Aug. 17, drivers in the step van, 5-axle, twin trailers, sleeper berth and straight truck classes are scheduled to take on the course. On Aug. 15, competitors took their written exam based on the “Facts for Drivers” manual. Competitors also are tested on a pre-trip inspection. The top scorers advance to the finals on Aug. 18. Winners are announced during an ornate banquet later that day.

To qualify for the national safety tournament, drivers had to win their vehicle class at their state competitions.