Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships
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July 2, 2018 2:30 PM, EDT

For Someone With a Late Start in Trucking, Montana's James is Coming On Strong

Montana Grand Champion Tracey James Courtesy of Tracey James

Safety and hard work. For Montana Grand Champion Tracey James of Jaybird Delivery and FedEx Ground, these are not only an integral part of truck driving championships, they’re integral to trucking.

At Montana’s truck driving championship, James finished first in Step Van, earning a ticket to nationals this August in Columbus, Ohio. It will be his third time participating at nationals.

Although the 52-year-old James, from Helena, Mont., has been driving professionally for over 20 years and runs his own trucking company, Jaybird Delivery, his trucking career didn’t have a conventional start.

“I started delivering pizzas when I was in the Army in Texas. My stepfather was a logger and I did some work for him,” James said. “I ended up getting injured in the woods and the opportunity to become a contractor fell into my realm of things when it comes to working and driving because that’s basically what I did all of the time.”

Bill Cowger

James' stepfather and logger Bill Cowger (Courtesy of Tracey James)

While working with his stepfather, Bill Cowger, James learned a valuable lesson that he continues to apply to his career today.

“My stepfather kind of instilled in me years ago that hard work goes places,” James said.

Following his injury, James launched T and P Contracting in 1999. Over the years, the company grew and downsized a few times. In 2008, the company incorporated into Jaybird Delivery, and since has grown to 10 employees. Jaybird Delivery contracts with FedEx Ground.

As a small trucking company owner, James can’t stress enough the importance of safety behind the wheel. At Jaybird Delivery, James has created a program for his employees to ensure safety on the road.

“My safety program is set up so that we have an online course that my drivers do,” James said. “It works directly with the safety bonus I have for them each month. They have to complete their online course in a timely fashion to get their safety bonus. We have safety meetings weekly and we are out there every morning to give them one-liners to remind them to be safe each day.”

Road to NTDC logo

The Road to the National Truck Driving Championships

Qualifiers | Map | Photos | Video

Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level advance to the national competition, with a grand champion crowned

What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills

When: Aug. 15-18

Where: Columbus, Ohio

James’ hard work and passion for safety paid off in Montana’s grand champion title. For James, the sense of accomplishment was gratifying.

“It makes you feel like all of your studying and safety goals you had all year paid off because it takes all year being safe to get there. Just getting there is a feat in itself in this day and age, so when you get there and you actually win, that’s just like the icing on the cake.”

To prepare for the championships, James sets up obstacle courses for himself, studies and practices pre-trip inspections. Typically, James will have one of his employees or his daughter Stephanie, who is also a truck driver, set up his pre-trips in a van for him.

“I don’t like using the same person because if I do, I know what to look for because you get used to them. I like to vary that up a bit. That’s the best way to do it for me,” James said.

Tracey James and wife Patti

James with his wife, Patti (Courtesy of Tracey James)

When it comes to competing in Step Van, James says the number of competitors in that class keeps him on his toes. However, he takes the competition in stride.

“I’m very competitive to begin with. My wife [Patti] tells me that all the time,” James said with a laugh.

For other drivers competing at nationals, James offers some advice.

“Just relax and be yourself. If you aren’t ready when the time comes, you’re never gonna be ready. Basically, if you aren’t ready when test day is there, I’ve tried too hard in the past and it seems like, it’s easier when I just go in there and relax and go with the flow,” James said.

Other Montana winners headed for nationals include:

  • Mark Cole of FedEx Freight in 3-axle
  • Steve Clingman of Old Dominion in 4-axle
  • Duane Bushman of Watkins Shepard in 5-axle
  • Charles Rogers of Wilson Logistics in Sleeper Berth
  • Robert Ellinger of DSV Road Transport in Flatbed
  • Jess Seward of Old Dominion in Twins
  • Kenneth Painter of FedEx Ground in Tank Truck