By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – John Smith Jr. and Don Smith have driven millions of miles between them for FedEx, and this week they hope to deliver national titles for the company.
The duo are competing in the annual National Truck Driving Championships in Pittsburgh on Wednesday through Saturday.
“This is my seventh time to compete,” said John Smith, who brought home the 2007, 2008 and 2010 titles. “I’ve been in a bit of slump lately.”
For Don Smith, it’s his third try at the crown, and he hopes to be a first-time winner.
“The fourth time’s the charm, I hope,” he said.
The Smiths are among 138 FedEx drivers who are competing in the event, which draws drivers from a wide variety of companies nationwide and several classes.
Four Mississippi FedEx drivers are competing. John Smith Jr. of Mooreville is competing in the four-axle category, while Don Smith of Tupelo is in the step van category. Bobby Lane of Jackson and Don Nehring of Olive Branch are the other two state competitors.
To reach the NTDC, which is sponsored by the American Trucking Association, each driver had to win the state-level driving championship.
In Pittsburgh, the event includes some 450 participants.
Drivers earn points by demonstrating their driving skills and their knowledge of the industry through a written exam, a pre-trip vehicle inspection and a driving course that includes tests of their ability to judge distances, maneuver tight spaces, reverse, park and position their vehicles exactly over scales, before barriers and around curves.
The Smiths have been working together to prepare for the NTDC, bouncing ideas off each other.
“I think we have a little advantage over some of the drivers because we’ve both been there before and we know what to expect,” Don Smith said. “But that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win.”
Said John Smith, “You want to be in the top five on Saturday, when you take a final driving test. … when you get your packet, you don’t want a score sheet. If you have one, it means you’ll be sitting in the bleachers. If you don’t have a score sheet, it means you’re competing for the title.”
The Smiths said the event will be very competitive from start to finish. Fellow drivers from FedEx, UPS, Walmart and other carriers large and small will be represented by their best drivers.
“This isn’t something you just sign up to do,” John Smith said. “You have to earn your way into the competition… the emphasis is about safety. That’s the main thing.”