PITTSBURGH. More than 400 elite commercial drivers took up the challenge on Wednesday with the first phase of the 77th annual National Truck Driving Championships and the National Step Van Driving Championships, but the rubber met the road on Thursday as drivers climbed behind the wheel for the skills competition.

Wednesday’s key event was a written test on trucking and highway safety, which figures into drivers’ overall score.

This year’s competition drew 426 drivers from all 50 states, including 23 first-time participants. Their goal: Being named the Bendix National Truck Driving Championships Grand Champion. Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems is sponsoring the top aware for the fourth straight year.

The skills competition began Thursday with drivers in four vehicle classes: 3-axle, 4-axle, flatbed and tank truck. The competition was laid out in two courses with the flatbed and tank truck drivers competing on Course A and the 3-axle/4-axle drivers competing on Course B.

The skills competition continues Friday with step van, straight truck and sleeper drivers competing on Course A and 5-axle and twins competing on Course B.

Finalists in all the categories compete on Saturday, and the championships wrap up with the naming of the grand champion at a banquet on Saturday night.