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June 4, 2019 9:30 AM, EDT

Persistence Pays Off for Maryland Grand Champion Kurt Royer of YRC Freight

Kurt Royer Kurt Royer (center) displays his Grand Champion trophy. (Eric Miller/Transport Topics)

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TIMONIUM, Md. — You might say YRC Freight truck driver Kurt Royer epitomizes the advice our mothers gave us: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

2019 NTDC

The 2019 National Truck Driving Championships

Qualifiers | Map | Photos | Video

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. 14-17

Where: Pittsburgh

Royer, who has been driving a truck for 31 years, has competed in the Maryland Truck Driving Championships nine times since 1999. And although he’s gone on to nationals four times, he’s never gone as Maryland’s Grand Champion. But at this year’s event on June 1 he was named Grand Champion after earning the highest overall score among the 102 competitors. He also won the 4-Axle class.

MARYLAND ARCHIVE PAGE: Previews, Recaps and More

Royer scored 337 of 480 possible points combined on the pre-trip inspection, written test and course skills test. On the course, he scored 255 of 300 possible points.

While he wore a big smile, Royer accepted his award in the cool, calm manner that one might imagine he displays when he does pick-ups and deliveries in his 4-Axle tractor-trailer several days a week.

PHOTOS: 2019 Maryland Truck Driving Championships

Royer and the winners in each of the other eight classes move on to nationals in Pittsburgh Aug. 14-17. Royer already has one third-place national finish on his resume. “I should have won that year, but I got nervous and messed up,” he said. “Winning the state competition was tough. I had to drive unfamiliar equipment — especially the automatic transmission. I’m used to driving a stick.”

The same was true for many of the competitors, who had to brave the mid-80s heat and negotiate a skills course with six problems, several of them marked only by chalk and small scoring pads on the asphalt. It was the first time ever for one of the course problems, gates that simulated backing into a dock, said Louis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association.

The average score on the course was 117 of 300 points, significantly below last year’s 157 average score, Campion said.

While most of the drivers interviewed said the course wasn’t too difficult, many said they had problems with the backing skills test, which was more difficult using trucks with automatic transmissions. One of the primary keys to mastering the course was moving without stopping until you get as close to a problem or target as possible. Once you stop, you’re done.

skills test at Maryland Truck Driving Championships

The backing exercise proved challenging for many drivers. (Maryland Motor Truck Association)

“You can’t coast with the automatics,” said UPS Freight driver Barry Holland, who placed second in the 3-Axle class. “When you hit the brakes, you just stop.”

“I’ve been competing for 10 years,” said John Nash, a UPS Chesapeake District driver who won the 3-Axle class. “The course is a nice mix of problems that we would have in our daily routine. But there wasn’t anything that easy, especially being in a different piece of equipment.”

Jackie Spangler, one of five women in the competition, has placed first in the state tanker competition three times and was the Maryland Grand Champion in 2006.

“The camaraderie is fun,” said Spangler, a driver for Carroll Independent Fuel Co. “It just always sharpens my skills. Also, it makes me feel like I’m a better driver. Then if I win, I know I am.”

“The course looked simple. But it’s not,” said Kenneth Johnson, a FedEx driver, competing for the fifth time at the state level. “I missed a couple of the problems.”

Cowan Systems driver Garry Harris was one of the drivers who was unhappy that during the course walk-through, he said, drivers received no instruction from the judges about how to score points at each problem.

driver walkthrough at Maryland Truck Driving Championships

Drivers participate in course walk-through before tackling the skills competition. (Eric Miller/Transport Topics)

“When they went through the walk-through they let us kind of muddle through and figure out what was going on,” Harris said. “That was a little weird.”

Most of the competitors interviewed said they thought the written test this year was a lot tougher. The overall average score for the written test was only 33 of a possible 80 points, Campion said.

Terrance Fletcher, a Cowan Systems driver who competed in the 5-Axle class, said the skills test course was “demanding, but experienced drivers should be able to handle it.”

Asked how did on the course, Fletcher responded, “You just don’t know. The caliber of driver here is pretty up there. That’s not to say that you’re any better or they’re any better. It’s just, we’re all good.”

The competition’s rookie of the year award went to Victor Carter of UPS Chesapeake District, the pre-trip inspection award winner was Louis Petrovia of XPO Logistics, and team winner was Giant of Maryland. Five of the drivers were women and 32 were rookies. All had to be accident-free just to be eligible for the competition.

This year's NTDC will be held in Pittsburgh Aug. 14-17. 

All competitors moving on to nationals:

  • 3-Axle: John Nash, UPS
  • 4-Axle: Kurt Royer, YRC Freight
  • 5-Axle: Christopher Sleeper, Albertsons-Safeway
  • Flatbed: Jerome Spencer, Giant
  • Sleeper Berth: Donald Karaszkiewicz, Domino's
  • Tank Truck: Victor Carter, UPS
  • Twins: Jason Trego, UPS Freight
  • Straight Truck: Gerrod Sims, Aggregate Transport
  • Step Van: Eric Schiller, UPS