Hello from Ohio
The National Truck Driving Championships was a highlight of the US leg of the Churchill Trust trip
“Some US truckers wanted to know was I recruiting for drivers in Australia.”
WELL, I’M BACK in the land of Oz and also back at work. While in the US I attended the Breakfast of Champions as part of the opening of the American Trucking Association’s National Truck Driving Championships and National Step Van Driving Championships in Columbus, Ohio. To enter you must be a full time driver and your company a member of one of the 50 state association members of the American Trucking Association.
With previous finals in all 50 states across nine classes, there are over 430 drivers involved and they compete for the national titles in each class, and then a Grand Champion. There is a written examination, a very serious pre-trip inspection, and a skills test that comprises six activities.
After the breakfast, speeches, and guest speaker, I watched some of the skills tests and I spoke with a couple of drivers who were participants, saying that although it was timed, there was ample time and it was more about the skill level.
With two concurrent courses going, the Columbus Convention Center’s hall was enormous and at any time there were two trucks competing and others lining up to start. There were a number of judges involved with each test and there were rules about the backing test. It had to be done in one motion; once you stopped there was a penalty if you moved backward again and each of the other tests could gain you points for skill and placement, or lose points if you went over the line or obstacle.
The previous national winner also spoke at the breakfast about both his passion and thanked the contest and the organisers about how winning had given him the chance to help promote the industry.
AMERICA’S ROAD TEAM
As I had committed to a show 12 hours away the following day, I did not get to obtain all the info I would have liked. What I did discover was that those who do well can also be nominated for America’s Road Team. Some states and companies have their own as well, and as a member of America’s Road Team you are one of a group of 20 drivers nominated for two years who are asked to attend events and promote the road transport industry and road safety.
It is a very serious competition with drivers practising for months in advance, according to another driver I spoke with, and of course you have to get through the state finals first. In conjunction with this they also hold the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s North American Inspectors Championship (NAIC), where again each state nominates their best inspector and they are tested, and a National Champion awarded. For the first time this year the awards for both events were presented at the end of the same dinner function.
The tables at the breakfast were state based. I spoke to one of the inspectors, a nominated entrant who explained they are a number of steps up from normal police, having specialised in commercial vehicle safety inspections.
Again there were six categories of tests towards a number of awards in those categories and then a Grand Champion. Until the breakfast, I was not aware of this part of the event and while none of us like getting a ticket, we mostly recognise that these officers do aim to keep us safe, as well as the general public. I think we should look at something similar here if it improves the consistency and professionalism of those we meet at the roadside.
I drove to Wisconsin and attended the Eau Claire Truck Show, which was started some years ago to help a local child. On the Friday afternoon a small convoy attended from a nearby town having again raised funds for a local there. There was also much press about ‘18 Wheels for Bubba, Bubba’s 16th Surprise Birthday Celebration’ in Milton, Wisconsin about four hours away. It started out there as a surprise party with a few trucks and ended up with 200.
The Eau Claire event had some magnificent trucks and monster trucks on the Friday and Saturday nights, along with music and stalls. Even at this local show there were companies with stands looking to recruit drivers. It is a drivers’ market, with some companies raising drivers’ wages three times this year, according to the satellite truck radio show adverts. I’d like to thank the organisers for a small marquee and space for my stand.
I travelled back to Columbus to do a tour of the Cummins Technical Centre, then onto to Walcott, Iowa and the Iowa 80 Truck Stop. It claims to be the biggest on earth with over 900 truck bays, a theatre, barber, and dentist on site, and an adjoining museum. I took photos, spoke with drivers, checked out the museum and there was a bit of traffic chaos as I left. A rig carrying a blade for a wind turbine was trying to get in, so all the trucks trying to get out had to back up.
From there I visited the Chrome Shop Mafia and then onto the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Texas where I had a stand (see page 52). I could have given away dozens of copies of Owner//Driver if I had been able to carry them. Many truckies stopped in to say hello and some US truckers wanted to know was I recruiting for drivers in Australia and could they come and drive our roadtrains.
Thank you to the Churchill Trust and my sponsors, the NRMA and ACT Road Safety Trust, for the Road Safety Fellowship.
It was a marvellous journey and I have much follow-up work and information to sift through in a bid to work out what we might do better or safer here.
I did 6000 miles in the US. I just wish our roads and some rest areas were half as good.