Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships

Reactivating XPO’s Wilbert Vano

3-Axle Ace Wins New Jersey, Readies for 13th NTDC
Wilbert Vano

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Central New Jersey’s coastline is home to one of the country’s most complex intermodal freight corridors.

Massive oil refineries, giant commercial ports, airports large and small, factories and shops at nearly every corner, bustling passenger train lines and a fiercely congested highway system force residents to perfect their driving skills.

It should come as no surprise that the Garden State’s precision-driving champion hails from a central Jersey enclave.

“Once you cross the Jersey state line from Pennsylvania after [5 p.m.], it’s really congested. And that’s when you actually focus … to avoid the distracted driving and just anticipate what [other drivers] do,” XPO’s Wilbert Vano told Transport Topics on June 24.

NTDC 2024

2024 National Truck Driving Championships

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. 21-24

Where: Indianapolis

“Some other states [with] four-lane highways are not as congested as our area,” he emphasized.

After sitting out 2023 over a technical disqualification, Vano, last year’s New Jersey driver of the year, returned to competition triumphantly. He blazed through this month’s trucking tournament in Atlantic City to take home a trophy in the 3-axle class as well as best-in-show recognition.

His masterful performance marked his fifth grand champion blue ribbon statewide and punched a ticket to his 13th trip to the National Truck Driving Championships.

Vano’s comeback to the “Super Bowl of Safety” will give him the opportunity to finally defend his 2022 national title in the 3-axle. That year, the self-described practice-obsessed driver also recorded the tournament’s top overall score.

Getting to Know You

Wilbert Vano at NTDC

Name: Wilbert Vano

Age: 48

From: Colonia, N.J.

Class: 3-axle

Pork roll or Taylor ham? Pork roll

Favorite exit on the Garden State Parkway: Exit 135 (Clark/Westfield)

Sports hero(s): Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan

What’s your jam? U2

Who inspires you: My father

Secret to success: Focus. Work hard. Be patient.

A must-visit in New Jersey: Asbury Park

Last word: “Congratulations for making it one year without an accident. And thank you for representing the trucking industry. And thanks for being here.”

“My goal,” he explained, “is try to get to the top five and have another chance to drive — at least after a whole year [of hard work], you should reward yourself by driving another time for the national championship.”

The top five drivers from each of the nine vehicle classes qualify for NTDC’s final round.

“The driving part … is always going to be a really tight score,” Vano said, referring to 3-axle competition at nationals. “You know, there are a lot of good guys in 3-axle this year. So my strategy this time is drive that truck, score what I can score. And the back room will really help you to get to the top five.”

NTDC’s back room consists of a pre-trip vehicle inspection and an examination of industry rules and regulations.

In his nearly two-decade journey to perfect his precision-driving skills, Vano has gained wisdom and humility. A big-picture appreciation for NTDC sharpened his focus: “Winning a state championship is just your ticket to go to the nationals.”

“You cannot carry that win that you had in state to the nationals,” he continued. “Don’t expect that you’re going to win it again, because that’s a totally different ballgame there.”

Other New Jersey winners:

4-Axle: Thomas Michi, UPS

5-Axle: Doug Simonelli, A. Duie Pyle

Flatbed: Joseph Drayton, UPS

Sleeper Berth: Kevin Byrnes, UPS

Step Van: Ron Price, UPS

Straight Truck: Eddie Conrad, FedEx

Tank Truck: Antonio Domazetovski, UPS

Twins: Mario Camacho, FedEx Freight

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