427 drivers to face off in National Truck Driving Championship

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FedEx Freight driver Chuck Bird is Virginia’s grand champion. He is one of many FedEx drivers headed to the national competition. (Image Courtesy of Virginia Trucking Association)FedEx Freight driver Chuck Bird is Virginia’s grand champion. He is one of many FedEx drivers headed to the national competition. (Image Courtesy of Virginia Trucking Association)

The nation’s top drivers are headed to Pittsburgh next week to face off at the American Trucking Associations’ National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Championships (NTDC). Exactly 427 drivers will compete across nine classes: straight truck, three-axle, four-axle, five-axle, tank truck, sleeper berth, flatbed, twin trailers, and step van.

At the NTDC, a national champion will be announced for each of the nine classes and one driver will receive the overall title of 2019 National Truck Driving Championships Bendix Grand Champion.

This year’s competition is set for Aug. 14-17 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. To qualify for the national competition drivers must have maintained a year of accident-free driving and win their vehicle class at the state-level truck driving championships. They must also maintain continuous employment with a fleet for at least one year.

“As we celebrate the 82nd National Truck Driving Championships, the passion and dedication of the competing truck drivers to their craft is no different than the first,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “The vehicles have changed, the safety training has improved and the stakes have grown, but the focus and precision among the field of competitors is something that comes naturally to the 427 participants and more than 3.5 million truck drivers throughout the country. Trucking and the American economy benefit greatly from the dedication of these men and women to their skill, and we wish them luck as they compete to be the 2019 National Truck Driving Championships Bendix Grand Champion.”

Fleets By The Numbers

Walmart Transportation driver Robert Benton won the grand champion title and first place in the 5-Axle class at the Delaware Truck Driving Championship. (Image Courtesy of Delaware Motor Transport Association)Walmart Transportation driver Robert Benton won the grand champion title and first place in the 5-Axle class at the Delaware Truck Driving Championship. (Image Courtesy of Delaware Motor Transport Association)

Of the 427 drivers headed to nationals, 176 of them work for FedEx. FedEx’s competitors come from across its various divisions: 36 FedEx Express drivers, 24 FedEx Ground drivers, and 116 FedEx Freight drivers. (These figures, and all figures throughout this story, are based on data provided by the state trucking associations and are subject to change as substitutions may be made.) 

Walmart has the second most competitors headed to the national competition with about 45 drivers. Other fleets sending more than 10 drivers include:

  • XPO Logistics: 33 drivers
  • UPS: 25 drivers
  • Old Dominion Freight Line: 25 drivers
  • YRC Freight: 16 drivers
  • ABF Freight 11 drivers

There are about 48 fleets with one driver competing, 11 fleets with two drivers competing, five fleets with three drivers competing. Werner Enterprises has four drivers competing while The Martin-Brower Company has seven drivers.

With its 176 drivers, FedEx drivers represent a significant portion of all competitors. Rodney Myers, FedEx Freight’s vice president of safety, said many of the fleet’s locations host voluntary practice sessions to help its drivers prepare to compete. Veteran competitors also step up to help mentor drivers who are new to state driving competitions, Myers said.

“However, year-round at FedEx we promote a Safety Above All culture. These competitions highlight the talent that our drivers display every day on the road and in the city. As with anything, dedicated practice time is helpful, but it’s even better when it’s part of your everyday routine,” Myers said.

State Grand Champions

Scott Woodrome was the 2018 overall national grand champion.Scott Woodrome was the 2018 overall national grand champion.

Each state recognizes a grand champion, the driver who earns the highest overall score. FedEx drivers account for 24 of the 50 grand champions in 2019. XPO Logistics and YRC Freight both have four grand champion drivers each, while Walmart has three. ABF Freight, Old Dominion Freight Line, the Martin-Bower Company, and UPS all have two grand champions apiece.

The remaining grand champions hail from seven different fleets, with each fleet having one grand champion apiece. Those fleets are American Fast Freight, Casey’s General Stores, Hogan Transports, Pottle’s Transportation, RIST Transport Ltd., The Boeing Co., and Werner Enterprises.

There are six women among the competitors headed to the national competition: Rebecca Nelson of FedEx Express, Christina Gaines of FedEx Express, Ina Daly of XPO Logistics, Nanette Harguth of Cliff Viessman Trucking, July Hjelle of Altendorf and Nikki Davis of FedEx Freight. Two of these women received their state’s grand champion title — Nelson in Florida and Daly in Arizona. This marks Daly’s second year in a row as Arizona’s grand champion.

“Our female drivers advancing to NTDC this year – Nikki Davis, Tina Gaines and Becky Nelson – join several other women who have competed at NTDC in recent years. They are excellent examples of women excelling at FedEx and in the trucking industry. Seeing them compete at this level is an important step in promoting the diversity of our industry and communicating to others that trucking is a great and inclusive career opportunity,” Myers said.

This marks  XPO driver Daly’s second year in a row as Arizona’s grand champion.

“It’s fun and a way to show company pride but there’s a lot of takeaway from it. I’ve learned a ton,” Daly said about competing during a 2018 interview with She Drives Trucks. “I’m out here driving a truck and I want to be the best driver that I can be.”

Ina Daly has been Arizona’s grand champion for two years in a row.Ina Daly has been Arizona’s grand champion for two years in a row.

For the last two years, the overall national champion has been a FedEx driver. Scott Woodrome, a driver in the FedEx Freight division, took the top title in the 2018 competition. In a September 2019 interview with Truckers News after his big win, Woodrome said the support of his fellow FedEx drivers, drivers from other companies, and his wife helped drive his success.

“On the weekends when I’m off work I’m going to a place where I can practice the course and different things and go over different maneuvers. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat during the summertime,” Woodrome said. “When people are doing other things you’re not doing those things. You’re kind of in training, so to speak.”

A FedEx Freight driver also won the top spot in 2012, giving FedEx three overall national grand champions within the last 10 years. Walmart has had three overall national grand champions over the past 10 years. XPO Logistics has had four overall national grand champions within the last 10 years, with some of those drivers earning the title while operating under Con-way Freight, which was acquired by XPO Logistics in 2015.

XPO Logistics President Troy Cooper said he’s extremely proud of the fleet’s drivers headed to the national competition. He cites the carrier’s core values and focus on safety as paramount to the drivers’ success.

“Over the past decade, XPO has had more NTDC Grand Champions than any other US carrier. That accomplishment reflects our core values as a company and inspires our drivers to begin and end each day with safety in mind,” Cooper said. “Supporting our drivers on and off the road is one of the most important things we do as a company. From tuition-free driver training programs to accelerated CDL courses for veterans, we’ve made a commitment to helping our drivers achieve their goals from the start.”