Lessons Learned from the Minnesota Truck Driving Championship
Driver Instructor Dan Becker Shares Why All Drivers Should Compete at Some Point
While most of us proceeded with doing what we normally do each weekend, whether at home or on the road, Dan Becker and five other drivers from Transport America were in the heat of competition in Burnsville, Minn. in early June.
Going up against their peers from other Minnesota trucking companies, they pitted their knowledge of the road and their driving skills in their drive to win the 2017 Minnesota Truck Driving Championship and earn a right to the National Truck Driving Championships, sponsored by the American Truck Associations (ATA).
Becker, 45, has worked with Transport America for 19 years (and has only driven for Transport America). Initially, he drove over-the-road, but since 1999, he has served as a driver instructor preparing drivers new to driving for Transport America for the road ahead. This year was the fourth year in a row that Becker competed on the Transport America team at the Minnesota Truck Driving Championship.
During the Championship each driver is allowed to compete in one of nine truck classes (flatbed, delivery truck, tanker, etc.). On the first day, each driver must complete a 40-question written test for that specific class of truck, an inspection of the vehicle (while being tailed by a Department of Transportation official), and an obstacle course. Those who score the highest go onto a second day to drive again in the obstacle course.
“You get one hour for the written test, and only eight minutes to complete the obstacle course,” says Becker, who earned 5th place in the Tanker Class. “It’s kind of intense. You get nervous.”
And the nerves are certainly justified. The judges and the rules are incredibly stringent; any small error can cost a driver precious points.
“There are 300 points available, but in the obstacle course they are difficult to attain,” says Becker. “The object of the course is to get as close as possible to the lines, but not to touch them. If you do touch the line, even if you’re only over the line by a ¼ inch, you don’t get any points.”
“Additionally, you cannot get out of the cab to see where your truck is in relation to the obstacle,” adds Becker. “This is very hard, because it’s absolutely contrary to the safety procedures that we teach Transport America’s drivers. When backing up for example, it must all be done with your mirrors – you’re not even allowed to poke your head out of the window.”
This year was especially challenging for Becker because he competed with a tanker.
“While I have a tanker endorsement and was able to compete in that class, I actually have never driven a tanker in real life,” he says. “Part of the tanker competition is an inspection, which is completed by a professional from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. They walk around the truck with you as you attempt to identify the 10 defects with the truck (five minor; five major). Defects might include a loose screw or a tire with low pressure, or a broken tail light, among other things.”
Becker had five other Transport America truck drivers competing beside him in various categories. These drivers included: Patrick Barnett in Flat Bed Class, William Schroeder in Tank Class, Floyd Bria in Flat Bed Class, Gerald Rosdahl in Straight Truck Class and Keith Grimm in Sleeper Berth Class.
Rosdahl won third place in Straight Truck Class, earning a plaque for his achievement. Of the 80 participants from other trucking companies around the nation, the Transport America team consistently scored high on the leaderboards for their respective categories. This, certainly, is a testament to the team and company’s commitment to safety on the road.
“A good deal of the work involved at the Championship is knowing and following the rules, which is important for all drivers,” says Becker.
“As a driver instructor, I’d recommend that all drivers of any ability, whether rookie or veteran, compete in the Championship. It teaches the importance of listening and enforces a commitment to excellence,” he adds. “There really isn’t need for practice beforehand, since Transport America drivers are already equipped with the skills and the knowledge to do well.”
While there’s pressure to do well in the competition, Becker says the Championship is not really about trying to beat other drivers at the test and the obstacle course.
“There’s actually a lot of camaraderie those two days,” Becker says. “To me, what the Championship is all about is doing the best you can against yourself.”
Tips for Success in Trucking
Because Becker is a full-time driver instructor, and has taught drivers from 21-years old to seniors, experienced and inexperienced alike, he offered these timeless tips for success in the truck driving industry.
- I think it’s important for a truck driver to being self-motivating. Be on a mission, and stay focused.
- In terms of day-to-day habits, be aware of your surroundings on the road and know your vehicle to help keep you safe, and plan properly so there are no surprises along the way. Give yourself extra time to get where you’re going so you don’t have to rush (or speed).
- It’s also important, especially today, to know how to effectively use the technology at your hands, the technology built into the truck to keep you safe or to help you know exactly where you’re at, even your electronic logbook, which can help you manage your schedule better.
Driver instructors such as Dan Becker and drivers throughout Transport America’s fleets are committed to safety, and based on the 2017 Minnesota Truck Driving Championship’s leaderboards, our team has the scores to prove it.