NTDC Rewind: Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2023 National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships, held Aug. 16-19, provided many memorable moments. For instance, UPS tank truck driver Gragg Wilson won the Bendix Grand Champion award on his 14th trip to American Trucking Associations’ “Super Bowl of Safety.”
But behind the scenes at the 86th edition of the event, other stories unfolded. Among them: fathers competing with sons, female drivers showing they are becoming a constant presence at the championships and veteran truckers showing up years after their moment in the spotlight to support today’s heroes of the highways.
Here are a few of our favorites:
‘Senator Cates’ Makes NTDC a Family Affair
Rick Cates, a lifetime member of the NTDC organizing committee, has competed or volunteered at the event for 51 years. Known as “The Senator,” Cates was joined this year in Columbus by his son Jamie Cates.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level who have advanced to the national competition, where a Grand Champion will be crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written exam, pre-trip inspection and driving skills
When: Aug. 16-19
Where: Columbus, Ohio
An executive with Old Dominion Freight Line, the younger Cates reflected on the event during an interview with Transport Topics.
“This whole industry is one big family,” he said. “Everybody supports everybody, and we’re all in it for the same reasons — to keep everybody safe and keep our roads safe.”
Ten Women Compete at 86th Annual NTDC
The number of female competitors at the “Super Bowl of Safety” was one shy of their record 11 participants, which was set in 2014 and matched in 2022.
Women first qualified for NTDC in the early 1980s, and their numbers have increased over the years.
Arizona grand champion Ina Daly, the national tank truck winner in 2013, earned the Neill Darmstadter Professional Excellence Award.
“I’m always encouraging women in the industry to do anything in this industry,” Vincenzo told TT.
I think more women should not be afraid to compete against the guys.
Teri Spencer, A&A Express step van driver from South DakotaImage
NTDC veteran Teri Spencer of South Dakota with A&A Express observed, “I think more women should be not afraid to compete against the guys. We’re doing the same job they are. We’re every bit as good as they are. Come on out and play.”
Video: Burch Reflects on NTDC
(Eugene Mulero and John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Connecticut’s Brandon Supports Former Teammates
Paul Brandon, flatbed national champion in 2014 and tank truck national champion in 2019, hung out with his former Connecticut team during the tournament.
Perhaps Brandon, formerly with FedEx Freight, was the team’s lucky charm since Connecticut took home the blue ribbon in the state category. This year’s squad included national 5-axle champion John Greene with FedEx Freight and FedEx Express’ Roland Bolduc, winner of the sleeper berth class.
“Team Connecticut: I got a lot of friends,” Brandon said. “Been here quite a few times and met a lot of great people from all over the country and got a lot of people you root for.”
Four Former Grand Champions at NTDC
Scott Woodrome, Wayne Crowder, Richard Gillespie and Robert Dolan, all past national grand champions, were spotted at this year’s event.
“NTDC is something I look forward to every year,” Gillespie told TT. “I’m not a couch potato, I decided a long time ago I’m not going to sit around and watch TV and be retired. I’m going to be active and working, and this is one of the things I like to do.”
Woodrome, who was cheering for his FedEx teammates, was grand champion in 2018 and 2019. Crowder represented ATA’s America’s Road Team at the event’s awards ceremony. He won the trophy as a rookie in 2004.
Maine Driver Still Finds YouTube Fame
FedEx Express’ Robert Cochran of Maine, competing in the straight truck class, was chosen by the company to do a ride-along video, documenting a route he runs along the picturesque, rocky coastline.
He was hesitant at first, but even his 2019 video, "On The Road with FedEx: Maine" has amassed nearly 50,000 views to date.
The drivers gave the fans what they came out to see at NTDC 2023: trucks making tricky turns on a complicated course. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Transport Topics coverage team: Eugene Mulero, senior reporter; Dan Ronan, managing producer-multimedia/senior reporter; Judd Hanson, news editor; and John Sommers II, contributing photographer.
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