Special Coverage of the National Truck Driving Championships
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August 15, 2019 12:15 PM, EDT

Trucking Leaders Rally Crowd at NTDC Breakfast of Champions

ATA President Chris Speak speaks at NTDC 2019 ATA's Chris Spear addresses the crowd at NTDC's Breakfast of Champions. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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PITTSBURGH — Trucking industry leaders rallied the crowd of drivers and inspectors with a message of pride and professionalism at the Breakfast of Champions on Aug. 15, officially kicking off the 2019 National Truck Driving Championships.

American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said the event presents an opportunity for drivers to help mold the industry’s image. He addressed a crowd that included the 427 drivers and 51 inspectors assembled to compete. The North American Inspectors Championship occurred in tandem with NTDC. 

PHOTOS: Breakfast of Champions, course walk-through and more

Spear stressed the importance of the industry, noting that truckers move 71% of domestic freight tonnage. Beyond that, he said truck drivers play vital roles in hauling supplies for relief efforts during natural disasters.

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

Last year’s NTDC Grand Champion, Ohio’s Scott Woodrome of FedEx Freight, also identified the competition as a place for drivers to shape the industry’s image. Woodrome, who is competing this year in the Twins class, encouraged drivers to make friends with their fellow competitors, noting that he’s made lifelong friends through the event. He also urged drivers to take pride in their jobs and present themselves well.

“Let us not forget one of the main goals is to improve the image of the professional truck driver,” Woodrome said. “You are the piece that completes the whole picture in moving America forward. As part of that puzzle, we should have the right disposition.”

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Chief Ray Martinez acknowledged that, in addition to playing critical roles in the nation’s economy, truck drivers are well-positioned to serve as role models. He recognized that the drivers assembled at the competition achieved their high level of skill through consistent excellence and preparation.

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez speaking at NTDC Breakfast of Champions

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

“Your expertise isn’t developed magically. It is developed through hard work, skills and professionalism that you acknowledge every single day,” Martinez said. “You set the bar. You raise the bar.”

Workforce development is a key ingredient to the success of the industry’s future, Spear said. He identified young people, veterans, women and minorities as groups of people who can offset the driver shortage. ATA recently published a report indicating the industry was short 60,000 drivers last year.

“As you age and retire, we need good talent to fill your shoes. We need to focus on multiple areas if we’re to grow,” Spear said. “You can have a long-term future with good pay, good benefits and a family like you see before you today.”

Spear said in the next few weeks ATA will continue pushing for a fully funded infrastructure bill. He also addressed the role of autonomous technology in trucks, reassuring drivers that they will continue to play a key role behind the wheel. Comparing truckers to pilots, he said a driver’s savvy is important for situations that present tricky streets or treacherous driving conditions.

“I have high confidence that you’ll be needed in your roles for years to come,” Spear said.