People of Yellow
Tamara Jalving | Sept. 9, 2022
The National Truck Driving Championships (NTDC) in Indianapolis was the first time in two years that America’s top professional drivers were able to compete in what’s known as “The Super Bowl of Safety.”
I wasn’t one of the drivers competing – but I was a rookie of sorts at this year’s NTDC. I had the opportunity to volunteer as a timekeeper and scorer during the semifinals at the Indiana Convention Center. This was my first time attending the championships and my role provided me with a unique, ground-level view of the competition, the drivers’ intensity, and the extraordinary focus and precision it takes to reach and compete at the national level.
Of course, the big highlight for Yellow was Alphonso Lewis finishing in third place in the 5-axle class, adding another trophy to his long career that includes nine NTDC appearances and winning Grand Champion in 2007. It was a thrill to watch Alphonso hold up that plaque with President and COO Darrel Harris and our other participating Yellow drivers at the end of the week.
There were many other memorable moments throughout NTDC 2022. Below are five personal highlights I had the honor of experiencing. Hopefully, they’ll give you a sense of what a tremendous annual event this is.
Organized and hosted each year by the American Trucking Associations, the NTDC has a long history dating back to 1937, when it was called the National Truck Rodeo. Today, it’s the ultimate event in trucking safety, bringing the best drivers together for a week of competition, practicing safety skills and pride.
As a volunteer timekeeper and scorer, I arrived in Indianapolis a day early for all the training to do my job on “Course A” for the step van, straight truck and sleeper berth semifinals Tuesday, then tanker and 3-axle on Wednesday. Despite the preparation, my role didn’t entirely sink in until I was on the floor of the convention center, watching the drivers calmly work through their repetitions.
Other leaders at Yellow, like Director of Safety Jamie Hofer and VP of Safety Compliance David O’Neal, played bigger parts at the NTDC, as official ATA planning committee members. Members of the safety team were also present to cheer on our team – their role was certainly significant in the state competitions, encouraging and supporting our drivers’ participation and preparedness. These events just couldn’t happen without the commitment of hundreds of volunteers on both the state and national levels. It was great to see the NTDC come back strong after a two-year hiatus due to COVID. I was proud to play a small part in that revival.
Left to right: Safety Manager Mike Kolb, Road Team Captain Jeff Payne, Safety Manager Rocky Duff, Road Team Captain Jeff Rose and VP of Safety/Talent Acquisition Tamara Jalving.
I was excited to see our Yellow drivers do well at the NTDC. But, as a timekeeper and scorer, I was there to support all the 400-plus drivers who competed.
I couldn’t help but admire every driver as I watched each one of them methodically address the six problems they had to overcome in the semifinal course – from navigating tractors across a scoring line within inches to backing a 73-foot trailer between two tennis balls with just four inches of clearance on either side.
For each of these drivers, this was a journey that began back as early as April, with regional and then state championships. To compete at those levels, they had to not only display exemplary driving skills, but also excel at written examinations and pre-trip inspection tests. In short, those competing in the nationals were “the best of the best” in safe preparation and driving.
While I wasn’t inside the cab at NTDC, it was fascinating to enter the drivers’ world. I watched how closely they listened to instructions before each course, then calmly took a deep breath before giving a thumb’s up from the driver’s window that they were ready to begin. Each driver had eight minutes to complete the course, but most finished in as little as five.
The precision, professionalism and discipline of each of these drivers was apparent to anyone watching the event. As a volunteer, I respected their commitment and what it took for them to get to the national level – whether driving for Yellow or any other carrier.
Yellow driver Alphonso Lewis displays his third-place trophy with President and COO Darrel Harris, and other Yellow drivers who competed in the NTDC.
Two of the big events for Yellow at NTDC were the tailgate breakfast we held for our 18 competing drivers on Tuesday and the President’s Dinner on Thursday, which the drivers and their families attended.
This year’s NTDC was the first time all our drivers competed under the Yellow banner. The tailgate breakfast was an opportunity to distribute additional Yellow-branded rewards and listen to experienced competitors share lessons learned with first-time attendees – lessons or simple mistakes they have made in the past that kept them from the winner’s circle. Drivers shared their experience competing in the state events and talked openly about their excitement in making it to the national competition. It was an inspiring display of comradery and teamwork that got me excited all over again about our continued transformation into a super-regional carrier under one brand and name.
We were honored to recognize all our drivers at the President’s Dinner, kicked off by CEO Darren Hawkins and rounded out by encouragement and appreciation from President Darrel Harris. Extra recognition was given to repeat winners and current ATA Road Team Captains – Alphonso, Steve Fields, Jeff Payne, Jeff Rose and Herschel Evans.
Four of our Driving Academy students visit NTDC 2022.
It was also especially exciting to see our Indianapolis Driving Academy class pop in to see the competition. The instructors brought four student drivers to watch some of the competition and hear from experienced drivers like Alphonso about what it takes to stay safe over a career of professional driving. This was a great glimpse for these students into their futures with Yellow and what it means to be a part of a great team.
Since 2021, Yellow has opened 22 Driving Academies across the nation. We’re one of the few trucking companies that offer commercial drivers license (CDL) training free-of-charge, while also paying the students and promising them a driving position at the company once they gain their certification. The impromptu visit from four of our student drivers in Indianapolis was a reminder of all we are doing to train the next generation of professional truck drivers – we aim to graduate 1,000 students from the Driving Academies in this year alone.
This year, Yellow had seven “rookie” drivers competing in the nationals for the first time: William Cook, Jesse Harren, Jose Vizcarrondo, Steve Rose, Chip Bechtel, Steve Tobolic and Ted Hunter. Jesse Harren and his wife, Jacki, were interviewed by Transport Topics about their first visit to the NTDC. William Cook brought along his mentor, Yellow driver and past NTDC competitor Neil Nogues.
For many of our 18 drivers, Indianapolis represented a return visit to NTDC. Those drivers were Alphonso Lewis, John Brownawell, Jeff Rose, Paul Callahan, Jim Moeller, Carlos Montoya, Mike Johnson, Herschel Evans, Tracy Dewees, Jeff Payne and Steve Fields.
Later in the week, several of our rookie drivers told me “I’m hooked and I’m coming back next year.”
I hope they do, and that even more Yellow drivers pour their time, passion, and safety focus into competing in the state championships. I would be honored to work alongside at least double our number of competitors in Columbus, Ohio, where NTDC 2023 will take place next August.
If you’re not a driver, there are plenty of opportunities to serve in a volunteer position at the regional, state or national championship levels. I think you’ll find, as I did, that it is an amazing and eye-opening experience.
Tamara Jalving is vice president of safety and talent acquisition for Yellow. She was named one of Women In Trucking’s “Top Women To Watch in Transportation” in 2021 and serves on the advisory board for Women in Motion, an initiative of the American Trucking Associations.
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