The time had come for Walmart Distribution Center truck driver Charles “Mike” White to get a new cab.
Tim Schumpe, general transportation manager of the Seymour distribution center, offered him one brand, but White said he preferred another.
Schumpe’s response was, “Go win the grand champion, and you can get any truck you want.”
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He was referring to the American Trucking Associations’ annual National Truck Driving Championships. To qualify, a driver has to be accident-free and work for a company for at least a year, and then they have to win one of the nine classes at the state competition.
White, 60, who began driving for Walmart in 1990, had competed in the state contest 16 times and won in 1999, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
In 2016, White won the three-axle class and qualified for the national competition at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
Going against more than 430 professional truck drivers, he won the three-axle class again and for the first time emerged as grand champion.
White returned home with a couple of trophies, and Walmart recently presented him with a new cab — a customized signal green-colored Western Star 5700XE.
“I think it’s so awesome that Walmart would do something like this,” White said. “This is something that I get to drive every day, and this promotes Walmart going down the road. It also helps drivers see that this company really cares about you. The fact of the matter is they didn’t have to do this, but they did. It just goes back to what (Walmart founder) Sam Walton said, ‘Strive for excellence.’”
Starting in 1937 as the National Truck Roadeo, the National Truck Driving Championships is known as the “Super Bowl of Safety” because it inspires tens of thousands of drivers to operate accident-free for the right to compete.
During the state and national competitions, each driver demonstrated his or her driving and inspection skills, knowledge and professionalism through a series of tests — a written examination, a personal interview, a pre-trip inspection test and a skills test.
With the pre-trip, each competitor had seven minutes to find 17 defects on a truck. The written exam consisted of 80 questions from a 340-page book, while the skills test challenged drivers to get within 18 inches of six problems on a course.
At the national event, drivers also earned points based on how much higher they scored on each part of the competition than other people in their class.
For the written exam, the average score was 52, and White scored 68. On the skills test, the average was 140, and he got 160.
Lifting him to grand champion status was scoring 90 on the pre-trip, compared to the average of 41.
White is only the third Walmart driver to win national grand champion and the first from the Seymour distribution center. He said he was the first three-axle winner to win grand champion.
Having traveled to different parts of the country for the other national competitions, White, an Indianapolis native who lives near Nineveh, said it was special winning in his home state.
“For it to happen in Indiana and being from Indiana, I don’t know how to tell you how I felt. It was crazy,” he said. “I’ve been to six championships, and I’ve never seen the home (driver) win grand champion.”
Representatives from Walmart’s home office in Bentonville, Arkansas, recently came to Seymour when White was presented his new cab.
Bryan Most, vice president of transportation for the Eastern Division, was among those offering his congratulations.
“It was kind of neat for him to be able to do it here in his home state. It was almost kind of like home-field advantage,” Most joked. “It’s kind of sweet to be able to win one on your home field, right?”
Most said White earning top honors says a lot about his commitment to his job and shows one of the company’s basic values, striving for excellence every day.
Most said they have had several discussions about how White can use the accomplishment in a positive way, including promoting the trucking industry and recruiting and mentoring drivers.
“I know this is not something that he just lucked into,” Most said. “I know he works extremely hard at what he does, and he takes it extremely seriously, and he certainly is a role model for all of us. He not only is a great driver, but he’s also just a great person.”
Mike Noble, senior director of fleet safety, said White participating in 16 competitions means he has been 16 years accident-free.
About five years ago, White was recognized for achieving 2 million safe driving miles with Walmart. Drivers with 3 million safe miles receive a new cab, and Seymour has had four reach that milestone.
“We talked about at the beginning of the ATAs that yes, it was a competition, we are looking to win, we are looking to bring home some hardware, but really, the whole spirit of it is just a celebration of safety and a celebration of excellence because of the amount of miles that were represented by not just the drivers of Walmart but the whole field as far as accident-free and safety,” Noble said.
Collectively, the national competitors have accumulated more than 600 million safe driving miles during their careers.
White said earning the title of grand champion always had been in the back of his mind, but he wasn’t sure if he would achieve it.
Having a great team behind him makes a difference, he said.
“Everybody that comes through your life, take pieces from them and learn from them. It may not seem like it’s anything at that particular time, but believe me, at some point, you’re going to use that,” he said. “I thank everybody that has helped me through my life and how they have given me little bits and pieces here and there.”