Top Truckers Compete in Houston

image of yellow truckCheerleaders get the crowd rooting for their favorites in The 2008 National Truck Driving Championship inside the Brown Convention Center. Contestants are state champions, tops from eight divisions of competition. Alfonso Lewis from Alabama, was last year's overall champion.

"It's an awesome honor...I mean, you're at the top. Top of your game, as you say. It's like they say, it's once in a lifetime thing. It's a great experience for me, I'm still enjoying it."

But Lewis didn't make the cut this year.

"When you're on that course, as soon as you get in that tractor, those nerves start to kick in a little bit, and you try to perform at your best out there. It's very competitive, you can come back and try next year, but you're not gonna always make it."

Shorty Whittington is the incoming chairman of the American Trucking Association. He says contestants are already champions before they arrive at the Super Bowl of the trucking industry.

"And this is individual skills, this is not a group of people.This is a quarterback that's really carrying the ball out there today, and he's the guy who's either gonna make or break the game at the end of the day to be the real true champion."

image of yellow truckClarence Jenkins has represented his home state of West Virginia over a dozen times.

"It takes the total package out here. You've got to do the driving on the course, you've got to do your pre-trip inspection, where they plant defects. You find all the defects that they plant. It takes a personal interview, we have a written test that's on firefighting, the industry, safe driving, first aid. All those points added together, and who out comes with most points, that's what it's going to take. Whoever has the most points at the end of the day."

Family members provide moral support. Brandi Schnieder hopes her husband Shane, crowned "rookie of the year", can add another title:

"He gets up in the middle of the night, and goes in and drives. I think it takes a certain special type of person to be able to do that. So, these truckers have to do it every day."

image of fedex truckLaurie Elder works for the largest insurer of trucks in the country. It's her first time at the event.

"It's these people that keep the roadways safe, or to me they do. So I think I have a greater appreciation or, maybe a respect for these guys, because I know what they do cause I insure them all day long. I see them on a state level and now I'm seeing them on a national level and you think, Wow, this is pretty phenomenal..it's pretty it's incredible."

The competition runs through Saturday at the GRB , when the champions in the trucking industry are crowned.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.
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