By James Niedzinski
---- — LONDONDERRY — When Ed Gertz began his career with FedEx 18 years ago, he never imagined earning national recognition.
Earlier this month, Gertz was named step-van class national champion at the National Truck Driving Championships. He is a resident of Dracut and works out of the FedEx Express shipping facility in Londonderry.
This is the 75th year the American Trucking Association has hosted the event, but just the fourth year for step-van competition.
The timed test includes a written exam, a vehicle inspection and driving obstacle course.
Before Gertz competed nationally, he won the state championship for his class in Pembroke in June.
”I remember that day perfectly, there were 40-mph winds and it was raining something awful,” Gertz said.
After his state victory, he started practicing weekly.
Using the FedEx parking lot in Londonderry, Gertz made a makeshift practice course. Every Sunday for three weeks, Gertz was out training with his fellow drivers.
”The support I’ve received has been fantastic, both from my wife, my coworkers and everyone at FedEx,” Gertz said.
After training on his own time, Gertz traveled to Indianapolis to continue practicing with other FedEx drivers last month.
It was far from a vacation, Gertz said. He was practicing sharp corners and studying for the written exam while he was away. He said the FedEx-sponsored practice was a real bonding experience and fellow drivers from all different vehicle classes really helped him with the process.
During the vehicle inspection, Gertz had to identify various problems and regulation errors. A step van was riddled with errors and severe problems, including an improvised explosive device in the back, open alcohol containers near the driver’s seat, leaking gas tanks, loose screws and a missing fire extinguisher, among many others.
Although he admitted he could have done better on the written test, Gertz said he has always been a born driver.
”Back when I was in high school, my friends and I would drive around in the junkyard after hours,” he said.
Gertz said he was the first one on the test track. The course involved parking within inches of a destination, sharp corners and driving around barriers.
”It’s kind of surreal, I never expected any of this,” he said. “It’s almost like I’ve won the Miss America’ pageant.”