August 11, 2017 9:15 PM, EDT

NTDC Veteran Cates Lauds Caliber of Drivers at Championships

Rick Cates John Sommers II for Transport Topics

ORLANDO, Fla. — During the first two days of the National Truck Driving Championships, Rick Cates, a tall, soft-spoken gentleman with white hair and glasses, monitored aspects of the pretrip portion of the competition.

After looking over the competitors by the trucks in a corner of the Orange County Convention Center, he told Transport Topics the drivers were performing better on the second day. It must’ve been their nerves and anxiety getting to them on the first day of competition on Aug. 10, he explained.

Complete 2017 NTDC Coverage

LISTS OF DRIVERS: By company | By state | Finalists

PHOTO GALLERY: All of the pageantry from Orlando | Winners

VIDEO: Day One | Day Two | Championship Day |  Bumper Cam | Sights and Sounds | ELD update

NAIC: Inspectors test their mettle | Houston's Rommel Garcia wins title

Cates knows what it feels like to compete at nationals. In 1980, he earned runner-up honors, behind that year’s grand champion. Seven years later, he went on to earn a spot on American Trucking Associations’ Road Team, and his involvement in the industry and on the championships’ executive committee continued to grow.

Cates, a vice president with Marsh Risk Consulting (Marsh USA Inc.) in North Carolina, was an honorary member of the championships’ executive committee. And, for taking part in the committee’s agenda for several decades, this week his peers recognized him with the distinction of lifetime member. Eight other men also hold that title.

“I volunteered, and I assisted. And the rest is history,” Cates said Aug. 11. “I get to come and work for the rest of my life.”

Cates is not the only trucking enthusiast in the family. His daughter, Lauren Akins, works at Old Dominion Freight in North Carolina, and she is an at-large member on the championships’ executive committee. Cates’ wife and son also work for trucking companies. His son-in-law, Akins’ husband, Brian, competed this year in the 5-axle class for Old Dominion.

“They all followed old dad, I reckon,” Cates said, also noting that this year marked the first time a father and daughter have served together on the executive committee.

Being a hands-on spectator of the championships has allowed Cates to see the improvement of the drivers over the years. As he put it, “Their skills are getting better and better. I’ve been here going on 40-some years, and I can see the quality and caliber of the drivers here getting better and better.”