Truckers Compete for Driving Titles

Truck driver Wayne Crowder shows off his lucky clover, kept in a plastic bag.

Long-haul trucker Wayne Crowder is the 2004 champion in the flatbed category hide caption

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More than 400 truckers competed at the National Truck Driving Championships in Tampa, Fla. FedEx driver Wayne Crowder, defending champ in the flatbed category, tells Scott Simon what's involved.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, Shakespeare turns 50. Yeah, wait, he's gone. I mean, the company that brings us Shakespeare in the Park and so much else is celebrating the 50th anniversary.

But first, this week truck drivers from all over the United States are in Tampa to determine who can steer, turn and signal with the most acuity and grace--just the word you usually associate with trucks and truck drivers. More than 400 truck drivers have gathered to compete for the title of Grand Champion at the 68th National Truck Driving Championships. The results will be announced this weekend. Wayne Crowder is the 2004 defending Flatbed Champion, and he joins us from the studios of WUSF in Tampa.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. WAYNE CROWDER (2004 Defending Flatbed Champion for the National Truck Driving Championships): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What makes a great truck driver, Mr. Crowder?

Mr. CROWDER: Safety, good defensive driving.

SIMON: How do you prepare for a trucking competition like this?

Mr. CROWDER: First of all, you've got 12 months of preparation because you have to have 12 months of safe driving--no incidents, record.

SIMON: No matter--a minor infraction. That'd keep you out of competition?

Mr. CROWDER: Yes, it would.

SIMON: And how do you win the Flatbed Championship?

Mr. CROWDER: You have several different tests you take, and you get to take a written test and you do an interview with law enforcement.

SIMON: I'm told, Mr. Crowder, that judges apparently plant some kind of problem on your rig for the competition.

Mr. CROWDER: Well, that will be in the pre-trip. When you're pre-tripping a truck, that's called an inspection of a vehicle or a piece of equipment.

SIMON: Is that little thing like pouring marshmallow sauce in the motor or something or...

Mr. CROWDER: No. They would do some simulation stuff. They might do a loose lug nut. Or they'll put some tape around the air line and it's called a simulated air leak; or put a black mark on a mirror and that's a crack in the mirror. And you have to find all these defects in an allotted amount of time.

SIMON: Wow. This is a serious competition, isn't it?

Mr. CROWDER: Yes.

SIMON: And it's about safety, not just...

Mr. CROWDER: It's all--they judge this--they call it the Super Bowl of safety.

SIMON: Yeah. Any actual driving involved?

Mr. CROWDER: Yes. You do a skills test. They give you six problems and you have, like, what they call front stop, back stop and side stop. It could be a little dock stop, back into a dock; parallel park. You could have a serpentine, where you go through three barrels.

SIMON: Whoa. How long have you been driving, sir?

Mr. CROWDER: About 22 years.

SIMON: How many miles a day do--a week do you drive?

Mr. CROWDER: Now--well, the run that I'm on--I'm on a run, the same run every day. So I leave my terminal out of Louisville, Kentucky, and I'll meet a guy halfway through to Rock Island, Illinois; so we just switch trailers and I turn around and bring it back to Louisville. I drive 436 a day.

SIMON: And I'm told you drive for FedEx.

Mr. CROWDER: Yes, sir.

SIMON: I feel safer already to put my packages in your hands. Now do you get a prize for winning?

Mr. CROWDER: If you win your class, you know, you get your trophy. There is a little prize money there. And then if you go on to win Grand Champion, you get a ring and they put a leather jacket in. And, of course, you get a bottle of Wild Cologne.

SIMON: It must make you stand out a bit among some of your fellow drivers.

Mr. CROWDER: Yes, a little bit.

SIMON: There's champ Crowder over there.

Mr. CROWDER: Yeah. Yeah, they put a target on my head, I guess.

SIMON: Ah, heavy hangs the crown of the Flatbed Champion, huh?

Mr. CROWDER: There you go.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Crowder, good luck to you, sir.

Mr. CROWDER: Thank you very much.

SIMON: May all your lug nuts be nice and tight.

Wayne Crowder, who's defending his Flatbed Championship at the National Truck Driving Championships this weekend in Tampa.

Mr. CROWDER: All right. Thank you very much.

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