COLUMBUS, Ohio — The kickoff to the National Truck Driving Championships featured a grand spectacle at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Aug. 15.
Competitors from Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Pitt Ohio, XPO Logistics, Old Dominion and other companies arriving at the safety tournament were greeted by mascots, organizers and fans as they registered to commence their quest for a national title.
On their first day of the “Super Bowl of Safety,” the 424 elite drivers took part in an orientation and walk-through of the driving course that features six challenges, such as maneuvering a sharp turn and achieving a straight line without hitting obstacles.
Afterward, every driver entered a classroom and took a written exam based on information found in the “Facts for Drivers” manual.
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
Illinois’ Ed Mikan, a familiar face at NTDC and competing in the 5-axle category this year, expressed confidence about his chances of advancing to the finals on Aug. 18. Of the written exam, he said he found a few trick questions but overall he is content with how he did.
For Indiana’s Dawn Cochran of Old Dominion Freight Line, a first-year competitor in the 5-axle, the test proved tough. “There’s so much information in the book. You just have to try and remember a lot. And then, when you sit down and do the test you just feel like you don’t remember anything,” Cochran said. “But I think I did all right.”
Walmart’s Ben Moore of Georgia, competing in the flatbed category, won the class at the 2008 nationals. “It wasn’t the hardest one that I’ve ever taken but it certainly wasn’t the easiest one,” Moore said of this year’s test. “We never know what kind of questions they’re going to ask.”
For Louisiana’s Joseph “Lil’ Red” Vital, in his third year at nationals and competing in the flatbed class, the test was not as tough as he had expected. “I thought it would be a little bit harder but it’s a little easier than I thought it would be,” Vital said.
As for the course itsel, Vital and Mikan are up to the challenge. “I think I can do it,” Vital said. “I’ve been on a harder course than this. So, yeah, I’m ready for it.”
Mikan added that he believes the course is “going to be a lot easier than it looks.”
The three days of competition will be a chance for the competitors to test their safety skills, Nevada’s David Sharp of UPS, competing in the 3-axle, said. Domino’s David Misenheimer, a driver from Connecticut, also competing in the 3-axle, quickly embraced the event’s festive atmosphere by taking photos with event mascot Duckman prior to his orientation. The test was quite challenging, Misenheimer noted.
Meanwhile, XPO Logistics’ Carlose London, the Grand Champion from New Jersey competing in the 4-axle class, who is not a stranger to the national stage, said he practiced long hours prior to the event.
“You come here to win, but to make it here every year, it’s just awesome to be here,” London said. “It really is. It’s all about safety.”
“To me, this is fun,” added Alaska’s Michael Hinkes with Carlile Transportation Systems, a competitor in the 4-axle. “It’s good to see everybody from around the world and from here. It’s fun. I do it for fun.”
On Aug. 16, competitors in the 3-axle, 4-axle, flatbed and tanker classes did their pre-trip inspections and driving challenges. Drivers in the five other classes will compete Aug. 17. The winners in their class, as well as the rookie of the year and national champion, will be announced at a banquet on Aug. 18.
To qualify for nationals, drivers captured their respective truck classes at a state qualifier.