The annual three-day National Truck Driving Championship is held in August and features competitors from every state competing head-to-head in eight classes. They vie for the honor as the Bendix Grand Champion.
One component of the competition stands out — knowledge is valued as much as driving skills. Competitors have to demonstrate skill, knowledge and capability but not just on the obstacle course.
Drivers must also complete a written test to show their knowledge of rules and procedures. And they inspect a vehicle to show their knowledge of vehicles and their ability to detect malfunctions.
Given the sometimes bad press the industry receives in situations involving accidents or ill-prepared drivers, this demonstrates the industry’s commitment to safe driving.
Markets Insider reported this year’s event included 428 competitors from every state, including 35 first-time participants. The entrants represented 97 companies.
Some regions around the country host smaller championships to determine which companies will advance at the national event. It gives more drivers the opportunity experience the event as competitors
The National Truck Driving Championship began in 1937. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the event is called the Superbowl of Safety. It inspires tens of thousands of drivers to operate accident-free for the right to compete in the event. Competitors must have at least one year of accident-free driving, but some drivers some will have tens of thousands of hours logged.
While the categories are only for semi-trailer and twin-trailer drivers, the event attracts attention from a much wider audience, including those who work as big rig mechanics and providers of towing service. One driver from Olympus Towing said he and his co-workers follow the competition closely. He also noted those who have towed any of the competing teams tend to have favorites.
In the truck driving industry, employers cite retention as a key issue. It could be the long hours or time away from home. It could be the emotional toll of spending days alone or the stress of driving on roads in poor shape and increasingly congested. Driving is an occupation many try but few develop careers.
The ATA says the competition draws professional drivers to the annual championship for the spirit of competition and for the prestige of being named the best of the best. It is described by drivers as being like the Olympics, where they come to win but revel in camaraderie and excitement.
If true, the opportunity to compete, and perhaps to be awarded for performance, to feel part of a community is bigger than you alone in a cab. It could be an incentive to motivate younger drivers to build a long career.
It’s interesting to note that in Canada, several similar competitions have been canceled. The National Professional Truck Driving Championships and provincial championships in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, for examped, didn’t occur this year because of insufficient demand.
It’s hard to fathom what the difference in attitude might be. But certainly, the U.S. Superbowl of Safety isn’t lacking in enthusiasm or interest.
Text by Daniel Fialko