Road to NTDC Spotlight: Roland Bolduc, Part 2
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Editor’s note: Transport Topics conducted several interviews with two-time NTDC grand champion Roland Bolduc of FedEx Express to gain his insights on what it takes to be an elite commercial transportation driver. This is the second of a series. Read the first installment here.
In March and April of this year, Roland Bolduc reassembled his training ground, fortified his approach to precision driving and began practicing preventative chaos techniques.
The 2022 National Truck Driving Championships grand champion has officially kicked off an intense routine designed to warm up muscle-memory and sharpen decades worth of experience associated with maneuvering commercial vehicles.
In the sleeper berth, Bolduc will compete at his state qualifier in Connecticut, scheduled for the second weekend in June. The sleeper berth was his instrument en route to his second blue ribbon performance at the 2022 nationals. In 2017, Bolduc took home the top prize. A relentless perfectionist with an affinity for the tournament’s history and traditions, Bolduc affirmed his commitment to returning to winners’ circles at states and nationals. Or, to hear him describe it, to once again secure a place at the “big table.”
FedEx driver Roland Bolduc marks off lines at his training site before getting behind the wheel. (Roland Bolduc)
In this second installment of Transport Topics’ examination of Bolduc’s road to NTDC, the consistently enthusiastic professional driver with FedEx Express again pulled back the curtain on his schedule for March and April. This year’s NTDC will be held in Columbus, Ohio, in mid-August.
In March, the updated version of the “Facts for Drivers” book truly entered the picture for the grand champion. Bolduc commenced his annual ritual of highlighting whatever new content the book featured in regard to industry rules and regulations. The book is the basis for the exam at state and national tournaments and a new version is published months prior to nationals. The book’s audio version is a tool used by Bolduc and most other NTDC qualifiers; the elite drivers listen to the book throughout their workday.
As far as training behind the wheel, Bolduc waited for the weather to cooperate before returning to his practice sanctuary.
“There’s a little thing that I do. I’ll watch a marker light on the side of the trailer and where it lines up with the barricade while backing. When it reaches a certain point, I’ll turn the tractor to get a better vantage point so I can see the barricade without using the mirrors,” Bolduc recounted his return to training. “Or, I’ll align my mirrors better with the trailer so both mirrors will show my distance to the barricade equally.
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
“So when I backed up to the barricade for the first time this season, I forgot about that marker light. So I had to pull up and try that backing maneuver again. The practices we’ve had are refreshing my memory and sharpening my focus for the state [truck driving championship].”
His training picked up momentum in April. Colleagues and peers assembled with him on weekends at a version of his ad hoc Rodeo Research and Development Facility (RRDF). The precision-driving training temple offers Bolduc the freedom to tackle near-impossible maneuvers that force his reflexes and instincts to respond to unexpected moments in competition.
“At the start of every new season, we practice to refresh our muscle memory. When you get in the driver’s seat and you’re about to enter a course, you have to block out every human being whether it be on the course or in the crowd of spectators,” he explained. “Then you concentrate on what you’ve practiced and what got you where you are. It’s not easy to do.”
Roland Bolduc celebrates his NTDC championship in 2017 … (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Bolduc has quit relying on good fortune for success. His guiding principle is to consistently train at a high standard to ensure elite performances.
“When I first started competing back in 1996 and ’97, the first-place winners in each class in Connecticut would get together and hold a practice prior to the NTDC,” he told TT last month. “I was told to watch and listen to the ‘guys with the white hair.’ That’s when I started to pick up pointers from the seasoned professionals.”
By mid-April, training needed to become similar to an athletic event, in which drivers test their skills by simulating competition. Their paces on the practice course were meant to emulate a state and national arena. Bolduc keeps a careful eye on regaining and, eventually, mastering his laser focus.
“Getting that laser focus back isn’t just focusing on the problems on a course, It’s how to find those certain cues on that course that will lead you to achieving better scores on those problems,” he explained.
“I feel what I see while competing is totally different than what other competitors see. So I can talk about what I use for marks because what I see and use is totally different than what other competitors see and use,” he added.
… and again in 2022. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
There is an emerging consensus among NTDC participants that competition requires complete and total concentration. That is good news for Bolduc, who prides himself on a preternatural ability to block out stimuli during contests. That mindset, if it can be taught, is among Bolduc’s keys to success.
As he put it, “Having that laser focus is not easy to do, especially at the nationals. You’ve got people cheering you on while you’re trying to block them out. I remember on my final drive last year when I backed up, I heard someone saying, ‘You’ve got that Roland.’ And then the next problem I heard, ‘There you go Roland.’
“I try my best to block everything out and just focus on the next problem and then the next. So that 10 minutes of laser focus is not an easy thing to learn, and it, too, needs to be practiced.”
Roland Bolduc was on hand when FedEx was honored for its 50th anniversay at the New York Stock Exchange on April 17. (FedEx Corp.)
A byproduct of earning national grand champion status is one’s notoriety industrywide. As one of America’s top truck drivers, Bolduc has found himself serving as an ambassador for a craft deemed essential. On April 17, to mark FedEx’s 50th anniversary, Bolduc joined fellow professional drivers, FedEx colleagues and industry friends for the company’s ceremonial morning bell ringing at the New York Stock Exchange. Bolduc, who acknowledges such events keep him from practicing, appreciated the festive affair.
“Celebrating FedEx’s 50th birthday on Wall Street was very cool,” he said. “Being there when Raj [Subramaniam], our president, rang the bell with [FedEx Express and multitime NTDC qualifier] Karen Tierney standing next to him on the NYSE balcony was very cool to witness.”
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