An Acton FedEx truck driver with 1 million accident-free miles behind him competed in the annual American Trucking Associations’ 85th National Truck Driving and Step Van Driving Championships last week at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
The competition, according to the ATA website, sees the top professional truck drivers from each state competing to be top trucker. Participants complete a written exam, a pre-trip vehicle inspection and, behind the wheel, a driving course that tests their abilities to judge distances, maneuver tight spaces, reverse, park and position vehicles exactly over scales, near barriers and around curves.
Oscar Enciso, who’s 50 years old and has been driving a truck professionally for 21 years with no accidents — not professionally nor personally — entered the ATA’s statewide competition and became the top driver in his category to represent the state of California in the national competition last week. He went up against 40-plus drivers in the national competition. But this isn’t his first time competing.
“There used to be a manager at the terminal who used to ask me every year, ‘Oscar, why don’t you compete? Oscar, why don’t you compete?’” Enciso told The Signal in a phone interview earlier this week. “I didn’t make much of it until 2011.”
That’s when Enciso said he felt he had little to lose and decided to go for it. Besides, he said, he wanted to make his manager happy. So, he entered the statewide competition. To qualify, he had to have at least one year without an accident.
“Yes, the big motivation is to stay safe,” Enciso said.
After his first experience in the statewide competition, he was hooked. The next year — 2012 — he qualified for the national championship.
“When I went to nationals,” he continued, “I realized, ‘Wow, this is a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be.’ I loved it more.”
Those who participate in the competition do so in one of nine categories, separated by the type of truck one drives. The categories include straight trucks, three-axle tractor-semitrailers, four-axle tractor-semitrailers, twin trailers and step vans. Enciso drives a step van and competed in that category. This year, like in 2012, he was again the sole California representative for step van drivers to compete with other step van drivers from other states in the country.
Asked about the difficulty of the competition last week, he told The Signal that he was tested on things he does every day.
“I mean, every single day you step into a new vehicle, even if it’s a personal vehicle, there’s always a pre-trip,” Enciso said. “You want to make sure that the vehicle is in the condition to drive. And this competition, what they do is they put defects (inside and outside the vehicle), they’ll mark them down, and we have to find them.”
Enciso added that competitors are also tested on their knowledge of a book called “Facts for Drivers” that comes out annually.
He said the driving portion of the competition gives competitors points based on their precision.
“They measure how close you are to an object — to a mark they put on the floor,” Enciso said. “So, the closer you are, the higher the points.”
Enciso takes pride in his driving, but he’s most proud of his ability to drive safely and to be safe. If anything indicates how strict he is with the rules of the road and the safety of a vehicle, it’s the fact that when he and any of his three kids are going anywhere together, they all drive separately, he said. While he admitted that his kids are all excellent drivers, he hinted that perhaps he’s a little too intense with the rules to be in the same vehicle with them.
According to a press release on the ATA’s website, Roland Bolduc, a professional driver with FedEx Express from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was named the grand champion of the event last Friday.
Bolduc, the release indicated, competed in a sleeper berth and bested a field of 408 drivers with nearly 730 million combined accident-free miles to claim the coveted title of “Grand Champion at this year’s Super Bowl of Safety.”
The top three drivers who beat out Enciso in the step van category came from Maryland, Illinois and Alaska. As for where Enciso placed, he said he didn’t know. He received the envelope with the results from the competition enclosed, but several days later he still hadn’t opened it.
“I don’t want to look,” Enciso said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m sixth or 20-something. For me, it’s just being there … At the end of the day, it’s like, ‘OK, it is what it is. There’s always next time.’”