HARRINGTON, Del. — Robert Benton, a driver for Walmart Transportation, won the Grand Champion prize at the Delaware Truck Driving Championships on May 18.
Benton, who placed first in the 5-Axle category, has triumphed in his class for the past two years, ascending to the national championships each time. He won the state’s Sleeper Berth class in 2017 and 2018.
A total of five Walmart drivers participated in the competition, and each came away with an award. Johnny Wiltbank placed first in the Straight Truck class and Paul Marks placed first in the Sleeper Berth group. Leroy Morgan Jr. placed second in the 4-Axle class and Gregory Ringgold came in third in the Tank Truck division.
Who: Winners from nine categories at the state level have advanced to the national competition, where a Grand Champion will be crowned
What: Contestants are judged on a written examination and their driving skills
When: Aug. 14-17
“[I feel] pretty good,” Benton said. “Everybody got something today, so that’s good.”
After spending nearly 10 years in the military, Benton knew he wanted pursue trucking. He joined the industry immediately after completing his service and has been working as a driver for 22 years. He’s based in Delaware, but his runs for Walmart take him up and down the East Coast. Benton’s wife, Diana, accompanied him at the competition.
Contestants were evaluated through a written test, a pre-trip examination and a driving course. In addition to Grand Champion, Benton won the award for best pre-trip inspection, which came down to a tiebreaker. He and another driver both received scores of 80 points, so the champion was determined by who completed the inspection in the shortest amount of time. Benton won, having completed the inspection in 6 minutes and 10 seconds.
Robert Benton (second from left) gets help from his Walmart teammates holding his hardware haul. (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)
Diana Benton sat with her husband’s awards (plaques for grand champion, best pre-trip score and first in his class, as well as two novelty license plates) as he helped pack up equipment when the event was over. She said she was proud that Robert was acknowledged for his sacrifice and hard work, which takes him away from home for days at a time.
The driving course featured six obstacles, or “problems.” The problems included rounding a curve lined with cones, parking parallel beside a mock curb, stopping so the front of the truck is aligned with a strip of tape, navigating through a channel of cones, backing into a makeshift loading dock and parking with one’s tire squarely over a mat.
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Benton said parking in a straight line along the mock curb was the toughest for him. He said the driving skills test was more challenging than the written or pre-trip exams.
“They provide us with books for written test,” Benton said. “The pre-trip is basically what I do all the time anyway.”
Drivers competed in the following categories: 3-axle, 4-axle, 5-axle, Sleeper, Step Van, Straight Truck and Tank Truck. The state’s Grand Champion is crowned from those seven winners.
Anthony Manso, a driver for FedEx Freight, was recognized as Rookie of the Year. Manso also won first place in the 4-Axle class.
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Some 26 drivers competed in the event, which was hosted by the Delaware Motor Transport Association. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the association’s founding and the 44th annual Delaware TDC.
The competitors clustered under tents, avoiding the beating sun, as they waited for their turn to drive the course. Many were grateful for the hot weather, which marked a departure from the cool temperatures and rain that characterized the previous year’s competition.
Marks, the Walmart driver who won the top prize in the Sleeper Berth class, said he performed better than he expected and that preparation is a matter of practicing safety every day on the job.
“One mile at a time,” Marks said. “Be safe.”
Winners from the seven categories at the state level advance to the national competition. The National Truck Driving Championships will be held in Pittsburgh Aug. 14-17.