He practices nearly every day, honing his skills and aiming to be the best in his field. He’s won numerous competitions, most recently being crowned a national grand champion.
But he’s not an athlete; he’s a truck driver. And the National Truck Driving Championships are his big bowl game.
Mike White of Nineveh, Indiana, has been driving professionally for 39 years, the last 26 of those for Walmart’s private fleet. On Aug. 13, after four days of hard-driving competition in Indianapolis, he was recognized as the most skilled and most knowledgeable in the country.
The 79th annual competition, hosted by the American Trucking Associations, was a nail-biter until the very end. “When my name was called out, it floored me. I didn’t think I was even going to make the top five,” let alone be named the champion, Mike said.
Competitors are made up of the winners in eight classes of competition from 50 state trucking associations’ Truck Driving Championships. Each driver must undergo a written examination, personal interview, pre-trip inspection test and a skills test.
Mike credits his exam and pre-trip scores with getting him into the top five and landing him the 3-axle class title. His run on the skills course put him over the top, securing his bid for overall grand champion.
It’s a game of inches. Mike faced 15 challenges, like maneuvering his big rig within 18 inches of a barrier and rolling between two tightly spaced rows of tennis balls attached to wood stands – bump any of them and lose points, and possibly the title. There was also a “road kill” challenge where drivers had to get the right front tire as close as possible to, but not touching, a rubber duck sitting in the roadway.
“It was such a surprise – that was the best part,” Mike said of his big win. “This wasn’t just for my home state of Indiana; it was for me, my family and Walmart.”
It’s also a nod to Mike’s commitment to safe driving. Drivers must be accident free for at least a year prior to the competition. Considering that Mike has been to nationals six times, it’s clear that safety on the road is his priority.
Despite having about 36 competitions under his belt and now the ultimate award, Mike isn’t ready to quit. He’s looking forward to defending his titles in 2017.
That attitude doesn’t surprise Jennifer Gray, regional safety manager for Walmart, who witnessed Mike’s winning moment. “Mike is the true face of our professional Walmart driver, and I have been blessed to be able to work with him for the past four years,” she said after the competition. “He has always had his eye on that prize of being a grand champion one day.”
Geno Bell, senior director of transportation for Walmart, seconded that.
“I’ve known Mike White for over 10 years. He’s a true professional, mentor and a great ambassador of the culture for our private fleet,” Geno said. “Mike practiced and studied hard for the ATA competition, and to see him win it all was AMAZING!”
Mike has earned more than just praise from his leadership – he’s also getting a new semi in the color of his choice.
“Walmart is so proud of their drivers who achieve awards for their expertise in safe driving,” Jennifer explained. “We have a wonderful program to recognize these associates and to also allow the motoring public to recognize when they are sharing the road with one of our safe driving champions.”
It takes time and expertise to earn a personalized truck. The honor is reserved for associates who achieve 3 million and 4 million Walmart safe driving miles, as well as those who are named ATA grand champion or ATA Driver of the Year.
In the meantime, like a seasoned athlete, Mike is back in training mode preparing for the next round of competitions.
“I have a big hill to climb and a lot of people after me,” he said.