Building the Best, One Driver at a Time: The National Truck Driving Championships
Mark Courter, Manager of Safety Compliance, FedEx Freight
I always wanted to be a truck driver.
I started hauling some farm commodities as a teenager and by the time I was 21 I was running on the Interstate.
I remember the moment I became a professional driver. It was when somebody in a Mercedes-Benz cut me off in traffic. I knew he was probably really smart or he wouldn’t be driving a Mercedes. But he wasn’t a professional driver. I was. That incident changed the way I drive. After that I held myself to a higher standard.
It’s said you only have one chance to make a good first impression. That’s true whether you are meeting face to face or on the nation’s highways. Each driver makes an impression on thousands of motorists a day. To make every impression a good one, each driver has to look at himself in the mirror and have the confidence to hold himself or herself to a higher standard. That’s what the National Truck Driving Championships are all about.
The NTDC is also an infrastructure for people to succeed. The drivers work hard. They put in the time and the practice. They’re out there practicing after work and on weekends, sometimes with their families helping them. Because of that dedication, within five years of competing we won “Rookie of the Year.” It was our first award. After that we were winning Grand Championships and National Championships.
The NTDC raises a driver’s situational awareness and that’s what prevents accidents. These drivers won’t be the ones tailgating. Instead they’ll be compensating for those people on the road who aren’t as skillful. The other drivers watch them and learn from them.
I still drive whenever I can. I had promised my wife that I’d get off the road when I got married. But I still drive a long-haul load once a year. This year I’ll take a load of turkeys out just before Thanksgiving and I’ll have apples coming back. That’s my “trucking vacation.”
My wife says that’s work. But remember Mark Twain’s story about Tom Sawyer? He got everyone to whitewash the fence for him because he made it sound like fun. So it’s all in how you look at it.
Behind the Wheel: What Our NTDC Champions Say About Driving
Aryn Pittaway * FedEx Express * Texas
Second Place, 2010 National Champion, Step Van:
“You have to become one with the truck. You have to be really aware of your own space on the road and be able to control it. The NTDC has made it more exciting to drive because every turn of the wheel is a different situation and a different obstacle.”
Sean Saxon * FedEx Ground * Arizona
2010 National Champion – Step Van, Best Pre-Trip Inspection (state competition), NTDC Humanitarian Award winner 2009:
“One of the most unusual things I’ve done is explain the Purple Promiseto a driver from a competitor. The customer asked me to do that. That’s because I would do things like take all the packages to the receiving department instead of leaving them at the loading dock. I would sort the returns from the shipments of the new product. The customer wanted the other driver to do things like that.”
John Smith, Jr. * FedEx Ground * Mississippi
2010 National Champion – Flatbed:
“My aim on the road is get home safely to my family. I want everyone else to do the same. I would tell other drivers to always yield the right of way. It’s smart to just back off and slow down.”
Chip Taylor * FedEx Ground * South Carolina
Second Place, Straight Truck (State Competition), Best Pre-Trip Inspection (State Competition):
“Since that first year [of competition] I’ve learned more about the trucking industry. It’s put safety squarely on my mind.
I would tell anyone who wants to become a driver that your first commitment is to have a safe driving record. That starts at age sixteen. You can’t apply for a driving job and have marks on your record. So develop good driving habits early, as hard as that may sound to a teenager.”
Karen Tierney * FedEx Express * Massachusetts
First Place – Flatbed (State Competition), Best Pre-Trip Inspection (State Competition):
“I got started competing in the NTDC in the 1980s. I won my first State title in the four-axle class and went to Nationals. That’s when I got the fever for competing.
I like driving because I’m not an office person. I like making deliveries and meeting people every day. I like being out on the road because it’s a challenge every day. Every stop is different.”
Scott Watts * FedEx Express * Alaska
2010 National Champion, Straight Truck, Grand Champion, State Competition:
“My biggest concern about other drivers is whether they’re distracted. I see people on cell phones every day. As professional drivers we have to be aware of our surroundings. If I see someone on the cell phone then I try to get out of their area because if they’re not paying attention, then that situation could lead to an accident.
It’s neat to drive a bigger truck than a smaller truck.”
Hundreds of FedEx drivers in all 50 states have accepted “The Chairman’s Challenge” and displayed their safe-driving skills at their respective state truck driving championships. Since 2005, drivers representing FedEx have captured 12 National Champion titles and another 23 top-three finishes at the NTDC. In addition, 31 drivers have achieved “FedEx Ace” status, meaning they have competed at five or more national championships.